If the autumn leaves are piling up in your backyard, then it must be time to make leaf mold compost! This easy natural process creates a soil amendment that is a perfect replacement for traditional mulch and organic compost.
It brings amazing benefits to the soil, it gets rid of all those leaf piles in your backyard, and it’s absolutely free!
Keep reading to learn all about how to make leaf mold compost.
How to Make Leaf Mold Compost from Autumn Leaves
Making leaf mold compost is one of the easiest garden tasks out there. The only essential element is that you have a good quantity of fallen leaves in your backyard, which means the process begins in the fall when the foliage begins to change.
This step is easy, and you probably would be doing it anyway, even without plans to make leaf mold compost. I suggest using a rake (and maybe getting some volunteers to help if you have a huge backyard!) and making one big pile.
Though it’s not necessary, it’s also a good idea to run over your pile of leaves with a lawn mower once or twice to cut them up into smaller pieces. Smaller leaves will decompose into leaf mold compost faster than big, whole ones!
When learning how to make leaf mold compost, figuring out where to store all these leaves is the only potentially tricky step in the process. You can’t just leave a pile of loose leaves in your backyard, because it will get blown away. So where should you put them?
Your best options are to put them in a bin (think one of those large backyard trash bins), in a thick plastic trash bag, or to build a 3×3 foot bottomless bin around your pile of leaves.
The latter can be achieved with wire or recycled wood and generally allows for faster decomposition than the traditional plastic bin because there’s more airflow to introduce oxygen into the process.
And the next step in learning how to make leaf mold is… drum roll… waiting! That’s right. Once you’ve deposited your leaves into some sort of bin, the next is step is waiting a long time: usually between one to two years.
The wait time is necessary for the leaves to decompose and turn into a darker, crumblier material that smells earthy and is so great for your soil.
To speed up the process, you can occasionally take a rake to the pile to mix it and even out the airflow. If you’re keeping your leaves in a plastic bag, you should shake it up to achieve the same thing.
You can also spray your leaves with water to maintain higher levels of moisture, which also encourages decomposition. If your leaves are in an outside wood or wire bin and you live in a relatively dry place, you might consider covering the top with a tarp to also help trap the moisture.
Apply to Garden
The last step in learning how to make leaf mold compost is actually using it in your garden! Once one to two years have passed, your leaves should have turned into a dark, crumbling consistency. You can use this leaf mold compost as a traditional compost replacement or in the place of mulch.
That means it’s a great addition to any garden bed as well as indoor pots. It improves poor soil structure and has great water retainment abilities—your soil will love it, and you’ll love it too because it’s completely free and takes advantage of natural processes!
Benefits of Leaf Mold Compost
Learning how to make leaf mold compost brings great benefits to both your backyard and your garden. It’s essentially a soil amendment that is completely free—besides a little bit of labor at the beginning—so you can save the trip to the garden nursery!
Some gardeners call leaf mold compost a soil conditioner. That’s because leaf mold compost doesn’t just change the structure of your soil for the better, but it also increases its ability to retain water, which is great for all your plants, especially if you live somewhere very dry.
Leaf mold compost (as you might imagine from the word mold) also creates a better environment for earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
Just remember that you still need to add fertilizer to provide nutrition!
How to Make Leaf Mold Compost FAQs
What are the best leaves for leaf mold compost?
Most tree leaves can be used to create leaf mold compost, but those that are best are the ones that break down fastest!
So the best leaves for learning how to make leaf mold compost include beech, cherry, birth, ash, hornbeam, elm, lime, and willow (among others of course). These leaves have high levels of nitrogen and calcium.
Leaves with high levels of fibrous lignen will take significantly longer. The time needed to decompose depends on your geographical area, because that determines the kind of trees you’re collecting leaves from.
How long does it take to make leaf mold?
The amount of time it takes to learn how to make leaf mold compost is very different than the amount of time it takes to actually make it. That’s because the process is really very simple. If you already have a bin ready, all it takes is 10 to 20 minutes to rake the leaves together and dump them in.
The decomposition process is what takes the longest. Depending on the kinds of leaves you’re working with, it might take up to two years for them to decompose into leaf mold compost.
Remember to mix your leaf pile every couple of weeks to help spread the airflow (which is essential to decomposition). This should also not take more than just a couple of minutes each time.
If you’re building your bin from scratch, this of course will take more time, but should not be an overwhelming task. We’d guess at most an hour once you have all your materials!
How do I make a leaf mold compost bin?
Making a leaf mould compost bin is relatively simple, and you have various options. You can either convert a plastic bin (like your average garden scrap trash bins), use a big trash bag, or build a 3×3 foot bin directly in your backyard using wire or wood scraps like old pallets.
If your pile of leaves is relatively small, we suggest using a sturdy trash bag, in which you can cut some holes to improve the airflow. No matter what type of bin you’re using, remember to check on it every couple of weeks for moisture levels, too! You can always hose it down if you think it’s too dry.
Difference between leaf mold and traditional compost?
While traditional compost is an amalgamation of decomposed food scraps, leaf mold compost is a compost made with just one ingredient: leaves. Traditional compost is broken down by bacteria, whereas leaf mold compost is broken down by fungi.
While you can add some loose leaves into your traditional compost bin, adding too many would upset the balance. So you can actually make both at the same time (but separately, of course).
According to the Soil Science Society of America, leaf mold compost even turns into a more “disease suppressive” soil amendment.
What supplies do I need to make leaf mold compost?
If you have a bunch of leaves, the truth is that you don’t need much else to make leaf mold compost!
Additional supplies needed for making leaf mold compost include a rake to gather the leaves, and then whatever you need to use a bin. You probably already have a plastic bin lying around, or you can use a garden waste bin, or a thick trashbag, or build a bin out of old pallets or wire!
I hope this post has shown you how simple it is to learn how to make leaf mold compost. The process requires minimal effort and a bit of patience but is sure to bring great benefits to both your soil and your garden. Your backyard is cleaned of leaves, and your garden beds will take advantage of a natural soil amendment.
Want more tips and tricks for taking care of your garden? Then visit our garden page for more informative guides, how-to’s, and product advice!
- About the Author
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Margherita Bassi is a freelance writer, journalist, and editor. She grew up between the US and Europe, and nurtured her love for nature and the outdoors in both countries.
In the US, she went on dozens of RV trips with her family, scouted out the best restaurants in every city she visited, and learned how to grow herbs and veggies of all kinds by watching her mother.
In Europe, she experimented with gardening in small spaces, like the small balcony of her apartment in France. With an MA in International New Media Journalism, Margherita is also a skilled researcher in a wide range of topics, and has extensive experience interviewing both individuals and experts.