We frequently hear how using leaf mold is such a great soil amendment, but, when fall comes, most of us rake our leaves to the curb or bag them up because it seems like making this “stuff” is just too much trouble.
Here are a couple of simple recipes for how to make this wonderful soil amendment, enrich our garden soil and save money at the same time. (If you have too many leaves for your own use, maybe you have friends or neighbors who would love to have what you have left over.)
Note: Here is an often-repeated word of caution if you are raising food organically — if you have treated your trees or grass with chemicals over the year, it is best not to use these on vegetable garden areas.
•Leaf mold is a product that results from allowing leaves to decompose over time. It will look dark brown to black, have a pleasant earthy scent and a crumbly texture almost like compost. In fact, it is a type of compost made solely from leaves.
It doesn't supply the same type of nutrition to the soil as combination compost, but it does help break down clay soil and aids the soil's ability to hold moisture.
Take the family for a walk this fall along one of Fox Island's wooded trails where vegetation is allowed to grow and go dormant season after season without human interference. If you took along your hand trowel and dug in that soil, and you would see how beneficial all this natural decomposition is. You can reproduce that wherever you live by routinely, every fall, recycling and composting your grass, leaves and other vegetation.
•Most of us have lawnmowers with a grass catcher attachment. Instead of raking, mow the leaves (and grass if it needs it) at the same time. Bag the chopped-up leaf mixture in large plastic bags, sprinkle water on the contents and tie it shut. Slit the bags here and there for air flow. Then set them in an out-of-the-way area and let freezing and thawing, heat and cold do the work. Add more water if they appear to have dried out.
•If you are gardening in raised beds, spread the leaf and/or grass mixture evenly over the soil, add topsoil or manure over that, and water if it dries out before freezing weather arrives. Some gardeners pull plastic (use clear plastic) over the top of the raised beds and fasten it in place with bricks or something heavy so the wind can't blow it off. To aid in decomposition, water the mixture from time to time until the ground freezes. (This is also a good way to sterilize the soil and rid the new compost of disease and pests.)
If you are catching only dry leaves when you mow, put them in a paper leaf bag and place in a holding area till the ground freezes. Then add them as mulch to your perennial and bulb beds. A thick layer of leaf mulch spread over frozen soil around your plants will keep the temperature a few degrees warmer and protect the roots of even tender perennials, such as chrysanthemums and hydrangeas, or newly planted trees and shrubs.