How to make leaf mold?

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

After the last tomatoes are picked, the standing greens harvested, the squash brought in and the carrots pulled, nature provides a bounty that assures the next year’s crops will have the best soil possible. Let your non-gardening neighbors curse autumn’s raking tasks. Composters rejoice in the piles of mineral-rich organic material that trees graciously shed just for them.

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little too much hyperbole. Still, it’s hard not to get poetic about leaves. Sure, raking can be hard work even for composters who know the value in each and every leaf. But leaves have long been a treasure for the gardeners: easily available, rich in nutrients, an effective mulch in winter and summer and, once decomposed, extremely beneficial to the soil.

But making leaf compost isn’t as easy as piling up a bunch of leaves and spreading them in the garden the following spring. Leaves, by themselves, do not make the rich soil amendment that all composters strive to achieve (but they will make leaf mold, a valuable soil addition; more below). Many of us started composting with leaves alone and it took a few seasons worth of experience to learn just what to add and how to maintain our heaps to turn our leaves into rich humus. But leaves, in their abundance, can be the primary ingredient in successful compost. And their use is one of the most rewarding green practices a gardener can employ.

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Piling Up

It’s difficult to estimate the amount of leaves that go into U.S. landfills and, of course, the estimates vary by season and location (weight versus volume is also a factor; leaves are the largest component of yard waste by volume, grass the largest component by weight). The EPA says 13 per cent of municipal waste volume nation-wide is from lawns, parks and other growing spaces. By weight, it is over half. Eight million tons of leaves went into landfills in 2005. It’s estimated that amount is somewhat less today thanks to the use of composting.

Of all green waste, the amount of leaves included can range from 5 to 50 percent depending on the season. The McGraw-Hill Recycling Handbook, Second Edition states that overall leaves make up 25 percent of all yard wastes in the U.S. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimates that grass, leaves, and other wastes from lawns and backyard gardens account for an estimated 18 percent of the annual municipal waste stream. In the fall, leaves can account for as much as 60-80 percent of that waste. In New Jersey, five to 30 percent of municipal solid waste is believed to be leaves. In the fall, this figures jumps to almost half. Because of its dry climate and short-growing season, the state of Wyoming estimates that its percentage of green waste is far lower than the national average.

These figures are in constant flux as individuals and communities apply composting methods to their green waste. But the fact remains that leaves are a tremendous and largely unnecessary burden on our landfill systems. And as a valuable resource to the gardener, the shame is wasting them at all. Stu Campbell, the author of Let It Rot! writes, “throwing them away is one of the worst kinds of conspicuous waste I know.”

Leaf Nutrition

What’s wasted? Pound for pound, the leaves of most tress contain twice the mineral content of manure. Because they’re a form of organic roughage, they can dramatically improve drainage and aeration of the soil. And they provide the perfect nutrition for beneficial microbes. In short, they make soil come alive.

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Leaves are rich in the trace elements your soil needs. Trees are an effective mineral extractor, putting down deep and intricate root systems that funnel calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus from the soil into their trunks and out to its leaves. 50 to 80 percent of all the nutrients trees extract from the ground end up in the leaves. Gathered at their peak and composted correctly, leaves will transfer this nutrition to your soil.

But all leaves are not created equal. The leaves of the eastern hemlock have twice as much nitrogen as the leaves of the red maple. White ash leaves are loaded with calcium, hemlock not so much. White ash leaves have a pH of 6.8, sugar maple leaves have a pH of 4.30. Some leaves aren’t suitable at all for composting, or should be used very sparingly. The leaves of black walnut trees and eucalyptus trees contain a natural herbicide that may keep your garden seeds from germinating.

To avoid wasting all these valuable nutrients and roughage, it’s important to know how to use leaves effectively. Leaves are at their nutrient best shortly after they’ve fallen from the tree. Soon thereafter, their nutrient value begins to disappear. Leaves left on lawns or in piles over winter lose much of their mineral value to leaching. Leaves composted without shredding and not mixed with a green source of nitrogen may sit for years before decomposing. Without a source of nitrogen, leaves will not become compost but instead become leaf mold, a valuable soil addition in terms of drainage and water-holding capability, but not as valuable as mineral-rich compost.

Leaf Compost, Leaf Mold, Leaf Mulch

What you intend to make with your leaves will determine the process you use. Many gardeners, especially those with abundant access to leaves, will have use for all three leaf products: compost, mold and mulch. Some will be looking only to make compost to enrich their soil. Gardeners with soil drainage problems will want to make leaf mold to improve the crumb and friability of their soil. Those with perennial plantings and extensive shrubbery will want leaf mulch to protect their plants and improve the soil’s water holding capabilities. Making the decision easier is the fact that any of the products can be used more or less effectively for any of these uses. But for the best utilization of leaves’ nutrition, you’ll want to make compost.

The Rake’s Progress

Let’s start at the beginning. Leaves should be gathered as soon as they start falling from your trees. At this point, they contain the most nitrogen and their cells are still pliable and friendly to decomposition. Not only do leaves give up nitrogen as they sit around, the cells walls harden, becoming resistant to break down. As the lignin between cell walls dehydrates, it not only resists decomposition but its ability to transmit nutrients through the soil (cation exchange) is decreased. Using freshly fallen leaves to make mold or compost not only preserves the leaves’ mineral content, it increases the function that transmits that nutrition from soil to plants. Lignin also provides nutrition for the bacteria that will facilitate the decomposition process. The more viable the lignin, the faster you’ll have compost.

The Green Cone Food Waste Digester has been designed to break down these materials in a safe way. The waste is digested rather than composted and is primarily reduced to water. Very little waste residue is produced and unlike traditional composters, there is no need to manually turn the waste.

Yes, gathering leaves is a chore, one that extends a month or two through the fall season. But as The Complete Gardening Compost Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin points out, it’s also good exercise. Plan to spread your raking out over the season and you can give up your gym membership for the entire fall. Pleasant lists “12 Rules of Raking” to make the job easier and more effective. While most of these rules come from common sense, the last, “Keep in mind that leaf season will last for several weeks, so you have plenty of time to let yourself enjoy the weather and the work,” is one the more ambitious among us might need to be reminded of.

Shreddin’

Leaves break down slowly. A pile of unshredded leaves without added nitrogen sources may sit for years before it will be completely decompose. Early-season raking of clipped grass and leaves help solve this problem by supplying an already mixed source of leaves and grass. As the season moves on, only leaves will be available. To make quality compost, leaf shredding is essential. This can be done by commercial shredders, which are notoriously expensive, noisy and fragile. Or shredding can be done with your home lawn mower. Don’t be content to run over your leaves once. Maximum shredding is important for quick breakdown. It’s easier if you employ help to pile up the leaves again once you’ve passed over them with the mower. Several passes will give you a fine, quick-to-decompose product. This is true if you’re making compost or leaf mold. In a pinch, a Weed Whacker or other line trimmer can be used to reduce leaves to a more compostable size.

Unshredded leaves left to mold will pack tightly in layers, delaying the molding process sometime for as much as two or three years. Even in a compost tumbler, unshredded leaves will sit through the season while all other green materials around it decompose.

Piling On Leaf Mulch

Now’s the time to decide what to do with your leaves. If using them as mulch, they can be applied directly under trees shrubs and plantings to protect the soil and provide insulation from the cold. Don’t be afraid to pile it on. Loft is important; the higher the pile and the more air trapped inside it, the better the insulating properties. Several inches is a good start. The leaves will compress and layer as the season progresses. In extremely cold climates, a foot of leaf mulch is not too much. Remember that leaves generally increase the acidity of soil. It’s a good idea to test soils in the spring and add lime or other alkaline substances if you pH is not to your plants’ liking. If using whole leaves or those not finely shredded, you’ll want to pull them back in the spring to allow the soil to warm. Unshredded leaves can also make a sort of canopy over soils, allowing moisture to run-off and not get to the ground. Finely shredded leaves tend to work themselves into the soil and encourage moisture absorption. Also, shredded leaves will not inhibit the spring soil warming process as much.

Studies have found that mulching leaves directly into turf, lawns and gardens has many benefits and a few drawbacks (see The Problem with Leaves). Generally, mulching directly into turf increases aeration and friability of soils, allowing grasses to spread and thicken. It will also lower nitrogen to carbon ratios of soils if done to extremes. Large amount of shredded leaves left on turf results in leaf litter being apparent the next spring and a chance that new grass growth will be discouraged by the cover.

If you have an abundance of leaves, it’s a good idea to store some in contained heaps to use later during the growing season as mulch. Yes, they’ll lose some of their nutritional benefit through leaching and off-gassing. But come spring, they’ll help conserve moisture in the soil during the growing season and will slowly become integrated into your garden. The decomposition that occurs during the storage process is beneficial. You’re making leaf mold.

Mold Does Mulch One Better

Leaf mold is a step past leaf mulch. It’s made in much the same way as compost, but with little or no nitrogen added to the leaves. Leaves left in contact with the earth and its wealth of beneficial microbes will slowly turn to leaf mold. The speed at which this happens depends mainly on the size of the leaves, shredded or not. Just leaving leaves where they fall will eventually result in leaf mold, not a bad thing in wooded areas, but not a good thing on your lawn (see “leaves on turf above). Some gardeners with whom patience is a virtue, see little reason to “artificially” make leaf mold. Those of us without that patience are glad to encourage the natural process.

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Making leaf mold is similar to making compost. Piling leaves in heaps or in bins and cages is about all that’s necessary. Keep the piles uniformly moist. Turning them on occasion is helpful but not necessary. Matting, a problem with leaf-only piles, is minimized by frequent turning. Keeping the pile under a plastic tarp will help conserve heat and moisture. Be sure that the pile has access to air. Even piled in cages, leaves can take three years to reach optimum condition. But if you shred finely, turn the pile and keep it uniformly moist, you’ll have usable product in six to 12 months. Leaf mold can also be made in plastic bags by filling lawn bags with shredded leaves, dampening and poking a few holes to let in air.

Making leaf mold (or compost for that matter) in raised beds can greatly increase the volume of your soil. Filling a raised bed with shredded leaves in the fall and turning them into the soil as soon as possible is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your contained soil. Covering the bed with plastic over the winter will speed the assimilation process.

Leaf mold absorbs five times its weight in water. Turned into hard and clay soils, it will help make them more friable and root-friendly while maintaining good moisture levels. And any leaf mold not used in your garden makes a great addition to your compost heap.

Leaf Compost

Making leaf compost isn’t different than making other compost. Bins, cages, piles and tumblers will all give satisfactory results though at different speeds. Because leaves are mostly carbon (60 parts carbon to one part nitrogen) more attention must be paid to the carbon-nitrogen balance. Not only will the right ratio of leaves to green material or manure yield a more nutritious product, it will also give you compost more quickly.

Chopping and mixing leaves with other brown and green ingredients will speed decomposition by four times. Five parts leaves to one part manure will get your compost pile up and hot. Using only grass clippings requires five part leaves to two or three parts clippings. Kitchen waste including coffee grounds and those last trimmings from your garden will also increase the nitrogen content of your pile. But don’t over do it. Too much nitrogen will help make your heap smell or turn anaerobic. Being sure your pile gets enough oxygen will help prevent this problem. To avoid matting, frequent turning of leaf piles is a must. Turning distributes moisture among water-repellent leaves, making for more uniform decomposition.

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Maintaining correct carbon-to-nitrogen ratios is not always easy. Measuring green and brown materials in buckets, bushels or wheel barrow loads, not an exact science, will give close proximity. Because manure has more weight per volume, less of it than what appears to be 20 percent by volume will give a correct balance. While the traditional layering method isn’t necessary to make compost, it does help you eyeball well-balanced green and brown ratios.

Because leaves are often available in such large quantities, it is impractical to expect your compost tumbler to consume all of them. If you have a bounteous supply of leaves, you’ll want to use bins, cages or heaps to begin the compost process. Leaves from the heaps can always be added to your tumbler when a new batch is being started. Again, because of their availability, it’s tempting to construct very large piles. But large piles are harder to turn and contain. Two or three manageable piles, all with sufficient nitrogen source added, are much more effective and more easily worked. The classic “three bin” method of composting is a great way to keep large amounts of leaves organized and progressing through the decay cycle.

Some gardeners have developed shortcuts that help them utilize fall’s bounty more efficiently. One method is to rake leaves directly over the remains of your vegetable garden at the end of the season, then rototill the entire plot to break up the leaves and greens and mix them with the soil. The plot can then be covered with plastic if the size of your garden makes it feasible. Adding a little manure or fertilizer will help the carbon to nitrogen balance. A second rototilling a week or so later further breaks down the leaves, integrates them with the soil and aerates it all. Recover for the winter. Spring rototilling should reveal that the leaves have become part of your soil.

One last caution when using your finished leaf compost. Some leaves will yield a more acidic product, especially if pine needles have been included (though it takes large amounts of needles to effectively change the pH). Measuring the pH of your soil after adding compost is a good idea. Supplement to bring soil pH in line with your plants’ needs. Or just add a bit of lime to compost high in pine needles and acidic leaves (oak, maple) before using it.

There are easy ways to make leaves decompose faster. Every Autumn/fall we get, whether we want them or not, a sizable delivery of leaves. To some they are a nuisance but to the rest of us they’re a bonanza, maybe eagerly awaited. But when we get them we want to convert them into useful compost as quickly as possible. Composting takes time, so, how do leaves decompose faster?

It’s easy, dry leaves will never rot if they stay dry but damp leaves will rot. Make them wet and they will turn into compost. Keep turning the heap to get more air into the mix because this will help it to decompose quicker.

What’s the best ingredient to mix with leaves to make compost?M

Is a static bin best for making compost from leaves or a tumbler?

Can leaves be stored before making compost?

Do leaves need to be shredded for making compost?

What’s the best way to gather leaves?

Making compost from anything will take time, so, ‘fast’ is always going to be difficult to achieve. However there are things that you can do to move things along but it does require extra input from you. After you have gathered your leaves together, you are ready to start the process.

There are two things that any organic material need to turn into compost. The first is water, if something is wet, it has a chance to start decomposing. You don’t need to keep adding water. The moisture that’s added at the beginning should be enough for the whole process. Compost will hold onto moisture, any excess will drain away but you don’t need to keep watering it like a pot plant.

The second thing is air. This requires effort from you and it will make all the difference if you are trying to make compost quickly. The microorganisms that live in the heap that you’ve created will thrive and multiply very efficiently if they have adequate moisture and plenty of air. Some heat may be generated which will drive off some water but it won’t be enough to dry out the heap.

You can either regularly dig over the heap with a fork or load it into a compost tumbler and roll it over every couple of days. Keeping it moving will give you best chance of a faster rot-down but you will need to be patient if you want a really good quality, crumbly, black compost.

What’s the best ingredient to mix with leaves to make compost?

Dead leaves can be categorised as ‘browns’. They are mainly carbon and there will be little or no nitrates to achieve the ideal balance that will produce the ultimate compost. Leaves will rot down into something that’s usable without mixing anything with it. But there are other ingredients that you can add to improve what you have.

I would add grass clippings. You may have grass available in the Autumn/fall time. Grass that you cut at this time of year tends to have a higher moisture level than during the Summer months. Moist grass will work well with dry, dead leaves. Add one to the other until you have what looks like an even mix. Leave it for a couple of months to settle. During this time it will, most likely, heat up and cool down. There may be a fungal period where mould will develop, which is best left undisturbed.

When the heap has settled, you could dig it over and introduce air to speed up the process or just leave it to reach it’s inevitable conclusion over time. The grass will contain some nitrates that will balance the excess of carbon that the leaves contain. A comprehensive mix of both grass clippings and dead leaves will make for an open-structured heap allowing some air to have access without mixing in the early stages.

If you don’t have any fresh cut grass to conveniently add to a recently gathered heap of dead leaves, then you could mix in some grass-clipping compost that has already started to rot down. There is nothing wrong with adding old to new.
There may not be enough moisture doing it this way, so you may have to add water to make the dry leaves moist enough. There will be available nitrates in the half-rotten grass to work with the abundance of carbon that the leaves will provide. It will all carry on rotting to form a very passable compost.

The only other ingredient that you could add to help with the process is hydrated lime or ground limestone. This will neutralise any acids that may form which will try to preserve rather than allow it to rot down. It is possible to make compost without lime. Mild acidity usually just slows the process, it won’t stop it completely. If you add hydrated lime or ground limestone you can be confident that the process won’t be hindered at all.

We have a post that covers the effects of white-lime. Check out ‘What does lime do to compost?’.

As a rough guide for application of lime, build your heap or fill your bin in layers of 6-8 inches deep. Then sprinkle enough lime to make the surface look white then add the next layer. This is a good way of building any compost heap whether you’re making compost from a large quantity of leaves with grass clippings or building a heap over a long period.

Is a static bin best for making compost from leaves or a tumbler?

This will depend on how much time you have to spend on the composting project. If you have a significant heap of leaves that you want to turn into compost, all in one go, as a batch, the best way is to put them in a composting heap or a dedicated static bin. You may need a number of bins if you have a lot of leaves.

Doing it this way you have a choice. You can either leave the bin contents to rot down in its own time or you can intervene and dig it out and load it into another bin. This will get air into it and accelerate the process.

A compost tumbler requires more attention but using a tumbler will speed the over all process. A compost tumbler is best use as a batch system. Each batch has to be rolled around in the tumbler until the contents have rotten down enough to be considered, made compost.
When a batch is finished it can be taken out and placed in a static bin to quietly take its time to finish into a good quality compost. Leaves can be stored dry. When a batch in a compost tumbler is ‘done’ and can be unloaded, a new batch can be started. Loading in dry leaves, which are usually clean to handle, is an easy thing to do. Add to this some grass clippings or kitchen waste to provide a balance of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’.

Another option is to store some leaves in a dry place, as for a basic compost tumbler, and feed them, a hand-full at a time, when feeding kitchen waste to a Rolypig composter. There is no batching with the Rolypig, you never need to empty it. This is an in-one-end, out-the-other system. The freshest waste is at the mouth end and the oldest and most rotten material is at the rear end, where you might expect it.
The dry leaves will absorb, and use, any moisture that comes with the kitchen waste. The leaves will balance the excess of available nitrates in the kitchen waste. We have a post that discusses the option of using a static bin compared to a compost tumbler. Check out ‘Tumbler composter v bin’ to find out more.

Can leaves be stored before making compost?

Leaves can be stored very easily but it will always be better if the leaves are dry. If you can gather leaves in dry weather conditions, it will be much more convenient and the leaves will be easier to handle. They can be stored in bags. It’s possible to load plenty in a bag if you press them in. They will be quite light to handle, it will almost be like handling feathers.

Store the bags of leaves somewhere dry. You don’t need to add anything to them to help them store. Such a stock of leaves will be ideal to mix with kitchen waste when you visit the compost bin or tumbler. If you don’t have any paper or cardboard then leaves will take its place. If you have enough leaves in store, you may be able to feed them into your compost all year round. If you are lucky you will have enough to take you up to the next Autumn/fall.

Do leaves need to be shredded for making compost?

Shredded vs non shredded. Leaves don’t need to be shredded to be able to make compost. Mixing them in with kitchen waste as you feed your compost bin will work well. However, if you have a shredder on site then you will see the advantage of shredded leaves. Small particles of anything organic will always rot down faster than anything large.

Another advantage with shredded leaves is that dry leaves when shredded often convert to dust. A dry dust will absorb any excess moisture that often turns up when collecting kitchen waste.

You don’t need to use any special type of shredder for shredding leaves. You may need to pay attention to the blades in the shredder. Dry leaves will usually shatter into bits but, being dry, they may blunt the blades, so, be ready to sharpen them.

What’s the best way to gather leaves?

You can spend a lot of money on a vehicle that will gather leaves and when you’ve finished it will be parked up until next year. There are blowers which are either engine or electrically powered. These can be fun to use and are effective. If you have a lot of leaves falling each year then using a blower is probably the best way to go.

Blowing is easier than using a rake. You will find that you need to cover every inch of ground when you use a rake and they only work best when raking leaves on a lawn area. In a yard it will be just as much work when using a broom. Depending on how much area you have to clear, if there is a lot to do, you may be able to justify getting a blower.

The one thing that you will have to look out for when gathering leaves is the wind. Whatever system you use to gather leaves, it can all go horribly, and embarrassingly, wrong if you’ve got a nice big tidy heap of leaves and a strong gust of wind comes along. They may end up scattered around and you’re back to where you started or they may end up being relocated to another district, in which case you may end up with someone else’s leaves from another district.

The main thing will be, if you’ve got together a good sized heap of leaves and they all blow away, that you will be hoping that no one else has noticed.

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What Can Make Leaves & Grass Clippings Decompose Faster?

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To promote the decomposition of your leaves and grass clippings, combine them to create a compost pile. A properly cared for compost pile heats up, which accelerates the decomposition process, compared to a pile of damp leaves or grass clippings left unattended and vulnerable to rain or excessive heat. When you decompose your leaves and grass clippings in a compost pile, the debris transforms into a rich soil amendment for your garden.

Location

Where you put your leaves and grass clippings to decompose plays a role in the speed in which they break down. Select a level area of dirt, away from buildings,and place the garden debris directly on the dirt. Avoid areas that experience water runoff, such as a location subject to flooding. Don’t place the pile under a tree, or in an area where your pets have easy access. It is a good idea to be near a garden hose, as you will need to moisten the pile occasionally.

Building

After moving the grass clippings and leaves to the compost area, make a pile about five-inches high and 5-feet by 5-feet wide. Sprinkle a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer over the pile, and then add several inches of regular garden soil to the top of the pile. If you have more leaves and grass clippings, add more layers, yet remember to add the same amount of fertilizer and soil after each 5-inch layer. Decomposing involves microorganisms and bacteria feeding on the materials. Adding the soil and fertilizer creates a better environment for the process.

Moisture

To decompose quickly the pile needs to be slightly moist and not allowed to completely dry out. It should be the moistness of a wrung-out sponge. Keep the pile slightly moist by sprinkling with a garden hose. Cover the pile with a tarp when it rains, to avoid getting the pile muddy. Adverse weather conditions, such as extreme heat and wind, can disrupt the balance of the compost pile, slowing or disrupting the decomposition process.

Circulation

The compost pile also requires circulation to keep it heated up and breaking down the material. To circulate the pile, turn it once a week or so with a pitchfork. After about two weeks, the pile should reach the ideal temperature to decompose rapidly, which is between 110 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Purchase a thermometer at the garden center and check the temperature periodically. If the pile drops below 110 degrees Fahrenheit, it needs to be turned. If the pile cools off, or dries out, the decomposition process slows down.

What Is Leaf Mold: What Makes Leaf Mold Compost So Special

Good news for those who hate raking leaves in autumn and carting them to the curb for disposal. Instead of making the long haul from the backyard, you can keep them there and make leaf mold. What is leaf mold? You may ask this same question as I did, although I’ve apparently been making it for years and just didn’t realize it had a name.

Leaf mold compost is a simple process that allows you to break down your fallen leaves for future use in gardens and flower beds. Keep reading for more info on using leaf mold for soil.

About Leaf Mold Compost

Using leaf mold as a soil amendment is a common and productive practice. Use it as mulch or incorporate it into the soil, or both. Spread a three-inch (7.5 cm.) layer around shrubs, trees, in flower beds and gardens, or any spot that will benefit from a

biodegradable covering or amendment.

Leaf mulch absorbs water, so you can use it to assist with erosion control in some areas. It is effective as a soil conditioner, creating an environment that attracts earthworms and good bacteria. It does not provide nutrients, though, so continue to fertilize as you normally would.

How to Make Leaf Mold

Learning how to make leaf mold is simple. It is a cold composting process, as opposed to a regular compost pile that break materials down through heat. As such, it takes longer for leaves to decompose to the appropriate point of use.

You may pile the raked leaves in a corner of your yard or bag them tightly in large garbage bags. Poke holes in the bags to allow some air circulation and store them out of the sun and other weather. These will decompose in approximately a year. However, the leaves may be ready in spring if you shred them before storage.

You can shred with the lawn mower or an outdoor shredder. The shredded leaves will compost quicker and become an earthy scented, soft and crumbly leaf mold for soil substance perfect for mixing into garden beds.

Keep the leaves moist, mix in grass clippings or green leaves, and turn if you have the leaves in a pile. Rake them out into strips for faster decomposition. Not all leaves decompose at the same rate. Smaller leaves are ready more quickly than larger ones.

Now that you’ve learned the benefits of using leaf mold in your outdoor beds, stop throwing them away. Begin cold composting and use them in your gardens while saving yourself a few trips to the curb.

Fall is time for cider, a blazing fireplace and anagrams. Anagrams and leaf raking, that is. What to do with all of those leaves? Make leaf mold. Leaf mold is a type of compost that is really a soil amendment rather than a fertilizer. Leaves need fungus to break down over a long period of time. After a year or so the leaves become a dark brown, almost black spongy material with a pleasant forest smell.
Instead of going through the bother of making a compost pile and adding other ingredients, you can make leaf mold all by itself. Also, leaf mold is a much better soil amendment than compost. In fact, if you just leave a pile of leaves in a corner of the garden it will break down over a few years on its own. The process is faster if you first chop the leaves by running them over with a lawnmower.
You can also make leaf mold in a plastic garbage bag with leaves, moistening the leaves and poking some holes in the bag for air circulation. Fill the bag with leaves and moisten them. Seal the bag and then cut some holes or slits in the bag for air flow. Let it sit. Check the bag every month or two for moisture, and add water if the leaves are dry.
After six months to a year, you will have finished leaf mold. Impatient? There are a couple of things you can do to speed up the process:
Before adding leaves to your pile or bag, run over them a couple of times with your lawn mower. Smaller pieces will decompose more quickly.
Use a shovel or garden fork to turn your leaf pile every few weeks. If you are using the plastic bag method, just turn it over or give it a firm shake. This will introduce air into the process, which speeds decomposition.
If you are using the pile or bin method, cover your pile with a plastic tarp. This will keep the leaves more consistently moist and warm.
Because leaf mold doesn’t contain as much nitrogen as compost you will still want to add compost and organic fertilizer such as bone meal to your soil. To avoid any traces of chemicals in your leaf mold, avoid using pesticides or chemical fertilizers on your lawn right before raking the leaves. If some traces of chemicals are transferred from the grass to the leaves it will be minor.
Because it takes a relatively long time for leaves to break down into leaf mold, you don’t have to worry too much about chemical contamination, because the long time frame lets some chemicals to break down as well. That said, never use any leaves from gutters or streets because they often contain pollutants such as fuel and oil residue.
Use leaf mold as a substitute for peat moss because unlike peat moss, leaf mold is a renewable resource.
Because leaf mold can hold up to 500 times its own weight in water it makes an excellent mulch. Leaf mold also opens up the soil and acts as a natural soil conditioner.
Lighter soil makes it easier for roots to grow. Soil amended with leaf mold provides a good habitat for earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
You can mix leaf mold into your houseplant potting mixes to lighten and aerate them.
Instead of throwing out your leaves, pile them up, wet them down, and make leaf mold. Then get back to your cider and anagrams, like the anagram for “old flame”: “leaf mold.”

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