How To Make And Use Leaf Mold For Better Soil

The leaves are covering the homestead and as an act of good stewardship, you’re wondering what’s the best thing to do with them all. Have you ever made leaf mold (leaf mould for our non U.S. friends)? So what is leaf mold, and how do you make it, and use it?

Leaf Mold

Leaf Mold or Mould Is leaves that are composted slowly in a fungal-driven process rather than by traditional compost methods which are a bacterially-driven process that can then be added to garden soil to improve moisture retention, improve and aerate soil structure, and increase beneficial organisms.

What Is Leaf Mold?

Have you ever taken a walk through the woods and reached down and picked up the rich black soil from the ground in an area with thick tree cover? That’s finished leaf mold.

When leaves break down slowly in a natural fungal-driven process rather than by traditional compost methods which Is a bacterially-driven process, it creates this beautiful soil amendment.

On a forest floor you will see all the stages of the decomposition of leaves. Rake a few whole leaves away and you will witness the partially broken down leaves that create a crumbly texture with quite a bit of organic matter still identifiable.

Go a little deeper and you will see soil with wonderful tilth which is the finished leaf mold that has become the new top layer of soil. Both macro and micro-organisms will work this leaf mold into the soil below.

The Benefits Of Using Leaf Mold In Your Garden

Helps With Moisture Retention

When leaf mold is mixed into the soil it improves the tilth, which is the physical condition of the soil. The soil becomes more porous with the added organic material, increasing its ability to absorb and retain moisture. This allows peak use and flow of water in the soil and makes it more readily available for the uptake of plants.

Improves and Aerates Soil Structure

Soil aeration goes hand in hand with water retention. Leaf mold will add organic matter to your soil which will create channels of air pockets. This allows air and water to flow through the soil which greatly benefits plant roots and organisms in the soil.

Finished Leaf Mold

Increases Beneficial Micro-organisms

When soil is loose, well fed, and heavy with organic matter organisms of all kind flourish. Macro organisms like worms, nematodes, and arthropods will show up in abundance leaving behind castings to further feed the soil and your plants.

Beneficial microorganisms also flourish in this type of soil. Bacteria, fungi, and protozoa are necessary players in the soil food web that creates healthy soil and allows your garden to grow at its best.

How To Make Leaf Mold

Great news! Leaf mold makes itself. Think imitating the forest, leaves fall, pile up, and break down into leaf mold. Now go imitate that. What does that look like in a practical sense on your homestead?

If you aren’t in a hurry you can simply rake up your leaves and put them in a large composting area. It’s best to contain them somehow within a cage or compost bin of some sort. You can surround them with fencing our purchase cheap commercial bins for this purpose.

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Doing it this way will provide you with wonderful leaf mold in 2 to 3 years. Super easy but also takes a long time. More good news though, you could speed this process up with just a little more effort.

By shredding your leaves first before adding them to the pile you will greatly reduce the breakdown time. You can run over them with a lawn mower with a bagger or purchase a leaf shredder to make the job easier.

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Slightly moisten the shredded leaves in layers as you add them to the pile then turn the pile over occasionally so the outer leaves can take their turn breaking down in the middle of the pile. Doing this will reduce the breakdown time from years to months.

How To Use Leaf Mold

You’ve done the deed and now you have leaf mold, so how best do you use it?

Leaf Mold As Surface Mulch

The easiest way to use leaf mold is to simply add it as a mulch layer to the top of your soil and let the microorganisms work it in for you. This can even be done if the leaf mold isn’t completely finished and broken down.

Leaf Mold As A Soil Amendment

If the leaf mold is completely broken down and no heavy organic matter is present it can be worked into the soil as an amendment to gain all the benefits right away. This will immediately improve the tilth of the soil and improve water retention and flow and aerate the soil.

Use As A Seed Starter

Leaf mold makes a great growing medium for seed starting. Because of its tilth seeds get all the water retention and aeration benefits that suit a seed well allowing it to germinate and grow at its best.

Seed Starting In Leaf Mold

Are There Any Concerns With Using Leaf Mold?

Nitrogen Robbing

When leaf mold is completely finished there aren’t any real concerns but if your leaf mold is only partially broken down don’t mix it into your soil, only use it as a top layer mulch at this stage.

When leaf mold is only partially broken down the carbon ratio can rob your soil of its nitrogen if mixed in which can greatly affect the growth of your plants.

Leaves To Avoid Using For Leaf Mold

Another concern when it comes to leaf mold is the type of leaves you use. There are a few types of leaves you should avoid using. While all leaves will eventually break down into usable leaf mold, leaves from black walnut are high in juglone which can stunt the growth of some plants if not completely broken down so should be avoided.

Also, some leaves take much longer to break down than others. Thick leaves like sycamore and chestnut may need a little assistance in a leaf shredder for best results, while leaves like oak and beach will break down quickly without being shredded first.


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    Author, blogger, podcaster, homesteading and permaculture enthusiast. I have a passion for sharing what I learn and helping others on their journey. If you're looking for me, you'll usually find me in the garden.

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