When you hear the words leaf mold you probably would think it is some kind of disease that attacks plant leaves. Well that would be wrong actually if you were a gardener from England you would know exactly what it is.In England the rich humus like mulch has been used for centuries to improve the soil and build beautiful gardens. Leaf mold is a mulch made of leaves that is formed by a cold composting method. Let me explain hot compost is when mix the brown materials such as leaves which are mostly carbon and the green materials such as grass clippings which are mostly nitrogen bacteria start to grow and digest the materials. When composting the pile heats up due to bacterial actions that is fueled by the green materials and helps to break down the brown materials. That is why the pile heats because of the activity going on. Cold composting is a much slower method that relies on fungi to break down the material which is generally brown material like leaves. Cold composting can take one to three years.
Leaf mold is not exactly like compost compost adds nutrients to the soil as well as organic matter. Leaf mold is more of a partially decomposed humus like mulch that’s main benefits are that it builds the soil organic content and increases the moisture holding ability, in fact it can hold up to 500 percent of it’s own weight in water. If you are ever in the woods just brush aside the top layer of leaves you will see a dark crumbly material that has an earthy sent that is leaf mold.
There are two easy ways to make leaf mold. The first method is to rake leaves into a huge pile and then moisten them. After two to three years they will decompose and are ready for use. While I know that most gardeners are patient most really do not to wait that long. The second method will help to speed things up. There are a couple of things that you can do to help hasten the process. First you can shred your leaves before placing them in a pile. Shredding leaves reduces the size of the pile but increase the area that is exposed to the fungi which breaks then down. Shredded leaves also don’t pack down so moisture will be able to get between the layers and aid the fungi in it’s work. The easiest way to shred leaves is to run over them several times with a lawn mower then rake them into piles and collect them up. If you have a shredder it does an excellent job so do lawn vacuums with shredder capabilities.
Once you have the leaves shredded rake them into a pile and moisten them so they have the water content of a damp sponge. Cover the pile with a tarp and then check the pile every couple of months an add some water if needed. While checking the pile if you stir them up a bit with a garden fork it will make the process go faster. It is important that the pile be big enough the minimum size should be three feet by five feet and at least three feet high. After nine to twelve months you should have a dark rich crumbly humus like material that is ready to add to your plant beds and garden.