Adding abundant organic matter to your garden soil is one of the best ways to amend it and maintain good soil health. Most yards have plenty of free leaves for garden use, particularly in the fall, and they can be used in different ways. Several different methods can be used to add the nutrients from leaves to your soil, but the overall effect will be to feed and stimulate earthworms, soil bacteria and other organisms. This leads to increased production of the nutrients needed to feed plants, increases the water-holding capacity of soil and also makes it easier to dig the soil over.
Amending Poor Soils
If you have poor garden soil, adding leaves will help to improve it. Add large amounts of organic materials to clay soils, sandy soils, ground that is too compact and soils that are low in nutrients. Add organic material on a regular basis to cultivated garden beds. Leaf composts and mulches do not contain soluble salts or toxic substances that might harm your plants.
In fall, spread a layer of leaves directly over garden soil. This can be left during the winter to begin to decompose, or alternatively, covered with sheets of opaque black or red plastic, which will speed up the process of decomposition. In spring, the rotted leaf matter should be dug into the garden soil. One drawback to this method is that the decomposing leaves will draw nitrogen from soil to assist in the rotting process, this could have a detrimental effect on plant growth. Adding nitrogen to the leaves will speed up the decomposition process. Add about 3.5 pounds of 21-0-0 fertilizer to each cubic yard of packed leaves; water well to speed the rotting process.
Often termed "black gold," leaf mold is an easy compost to make. Bag up fallen leaves, water the mixture, seal the bags and then hide them away for six months or so. The resulting blackish-brown, crumbly compost will be a useful enrichment for your garden soil. Alternatively, you can pile up fallen leaves in a corner of the garden, use a hose to wet the mix and then just wait for the leaves to naturally rot down into useful leaf mold. Building or placing a wire enclosure around piles of rotting leaves will help keep them tidily in place.
Uses for Leaf Mold
Soft, crumbly leaf mold has a variety of uses in the garden. It can be used as an attractive mulch that prevents weeds from germinating in the soil, protects plant roots from harsh summer sun and stops water runoff from your property. Adding it to soil will amend the texture and improve soil health, and it is particularly useful for improving clay soils. Add leaf mold to container potting mixtures instead of peat moss.
- Cornell University: Cornell Gardening Resources, Using Organic Matter in the Garden
- State University of New Jersey, Rutgers Cooperative Extension: Using Leaf Compost
- Washington State University: Fall Soil Amendments
- Oregon State University: Improving Garden Soils With Organic Matter
- Washington State University: Save Those Fallen Leaves and Make Leaf Mold
- University of California, Davis: Master Gardener Newspaper Articles, Don't Just Throw Them Away! Pile Fallen Leaves for Leaf Mold
- Fine Gardening: Making Leaf Mold
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