Do you think of falling autumn leaves that cover your lawn and driveway as an annoying nuisance that have to be raked up, stuffed into lawn bags and hauled to the curb? If so, think again. Think of them as money in the bank, a free amendment for your garden soil.
All you have to do is turn the red, yellow and gold colors of autumn into rich, dark leaf mold.
Leaf mold is a form of compost that is created by letting leaves — just leaves, no other organic matter — decompose over a period of time. Leaf mold differs from garden compost in several ways.
For one, because of their dry, acidic and low-in-nitrogen nature, leaves decompose into leaf mold through the slow “cold" process of fungal breakdown. Garden compost, which is derived from a variety of organic material, is created by bacterial decomposition, which relies at least in part on heat buildup among compost ingredients.
For another, leaf mold and compost serve different purposes. While leaf mold doesn’t provide as many nutrients to the soil as compost, it greatly adds to soil structure, increases the ability of soil to retain water and provides a habitat for soil life, such as earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
Perhaps best of all, other than the cost of a black garbage bag and a few sore back muscles, leaf mold is free and ridiculously easy to make.
Leaf mold has several uses in perennial beds or in vegetable gardens.
It can be dug or turned into the soil between seasons, used as a top dressing or mulch or even mixed with water to create a “tea" that can be used for watering roots or as a foliar spray. It's also great to use in containers because of its ability to retain water.
If your black bags haven’t deteriorated, they can even be re-used when leaves with those beautiful fall colors begin dropping from the trees next fall.
Inset photo: Angela Renals