Falling leaves can bleach a lawn, foul a pond and make garden paths slippery and hazardous. Collecting them up is a fall gardening task in many gardens. Once they have been collected then it's just a short step to making leaf mold -- a wonderful soil improver for the organic garden.
- Collect your leaves. Whether you use a leaf blower or just a rake, the first step to making leaf mold is to collect your leaves. If you have leaves on the lawn, try running the mower over them on its highest cut setting -- it will collect them in the grass hopper and chop them up for you at the same time.
- Fill your container. Don't put fallen leaves on a regular compost heap -- they take much longer to break down than compost. You can make a simple leaf mold bin from 4 stakes and some chicken wire, leaving the leaves open to the elements. Or you can just use plastic sacks. Stuff wet leaves into plastic sacks, tie the top and make a few holes in the bottom (a garden fork is good for this).
- Forget about it. Put your leaf mold container at the bottom of the garden, out of sight and out of mind. It will be at least a year before you can use your leaf mold, but it doesn't need attention in the meantime.
- Mulch/ improve your soil. After a year, your leaf mold will be suitable for use as a mulch, or can be dug into the soil as a low fertility soil improver. This means that, although it doesn't add much in the way of nutrients, it aids water retention, improves drainage, maintains a good soil structure and encourages the soil organisms that make soil fertile.
- Cover and protect. Leaf mold also makes a great winter cover for bare soil. Or use it to cover the crowns of perennial plants to protect them from frost.
- Make potting mixes. If you leave your leaf mold to rot down for 2 or 3 years then you will have the perfect addition to homemade potting mixes. Try equal parts of leaf mold, garden compost and loam for a basic potting mix. 3 parts leaf mold to 1 part worm compost would give you a much richer mix. Or equal parts of loam and leaf mold makes a seed starting mix.
- Don't use leaves from the roadside, which may have been contaminated by vehicle exhausts.
- And don't collect fallen leaves from woods and forests -- you will damage the local ecosystem.