Get ready to collect some manna from heaven! Leaf mold is one of the best amendments a gardener can add to the garden. And it’s super easy to make and free: All you need is leaves and time. Create a leaf pile somewhere it won’t blow away but will get snowed and rained upon and break down gently in its own time. At the end of a year (or two if you live in a more arid place), you’ll have the treasure of broken down leaves, wet and almost compost-like.
Leaf mold is valuable in several ways. It is the result of the fungal breakdown, so in addition to adding organic matter to your garden, you’re also putting lots of beneficial fungi in the soil. It’s a good way to add valuable minerals to soil because tree roots are pulling nutrients from deep within the soil and depositing those nutrients in their leaves, which then get deposited in your garden.
There are two easy ways to get leaf mold. The absolute easiest is to live somewhere humid with lots of deciduous trees like North Carolina and just go out into the woods and find places the leaves have drifted over the years. Reach down under a soft squishy pile of leaves and you’ll find leaves from previous years broken down and moist and crumbly, often with earthworms happily working away.
If you don’t have your own woodland or if you live here in the arid plains of Colorado, the process needs a little helping along. In my neighborhood, a gardener on a busy street put up a sign in front of her house: “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” People hate to just throw leaves in the garbage, so in the spirit of recycling, they drop them off at her house all hours of the day and night. She takes the first 1000! or so bags for her garden and leaf mold pile and her goats (Apparently goats think dry leaves taste like potato chips.) The rest of us gardeners in the neighborhood take the next 1000 bags strangers drop off for us. They tidy their yards to get rid of leaves and we add all those leaves to our garden because we know they are manna from heaven!
For more how-to info and video, check out Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening magazines.