Decaying Autumn Leaves Feed Summer Gardens
In many parts of the U.S., autumn brings fallen leaves, and the benefits of composting can be extended via leaf molding. “You get new leaves every year. You don’t need to take leaves to a landfill or burn them,” advises Lee Reich, Ph.D., a garden and orchard consultant in New Paltz, New York. Digging or tilling leaves into garden beds and containers, using them as mulch, fosters natural soil conditioning, supplies beneficial nutrients and enriches earthworm habitat. PlanetNatural.com estimates that 50 to 80 percent of tree nutrients end up in their leaves.
According to FineGardening.com, “Leaf mold prevents extreme fluctuations in soil temperature, keeps the soil surface loose so water penetrates easily, retains soil moisture by slowing water evaporation and stimulates biological activity, creating a microbial environment that helps thwart pests.”
One method comprises piling leaves in a corner of the yard or in a wood or wire bin at least three feet wide and tall. Thoroughly dampen the entire pile and let it sit, checking the moisture level occasionally during dry periods and adding water if necessary. Another option is to fill a large plastic bag with leaves and moisten them. Seal the bag, and then cut some holes or slits for airflow. Check every month or two and add water if the leaves are dry.
Either way, the decomposition process for most leaves can take six to 12 months; DIYNatural.com reports that some leaves, like oak, can take up to three years to decompose. Hasten the process by mowing the leaves a couple of times before adding them to the pile or bag; turning them over every few weeks with a shovel or garden fork; or covering the contained pile with a plastic tarp to keep the leaves wetter and warmer.
This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.