Uses for Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is best described as a “soil conditioner”. Among the things leaf mold does to condition soil is increase water retention, improve soil structure, and provide a robust habitat for earthworms and beneficial bacteria. Though leaves are not high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, tree roots do mine calcium, magnesium and many other trace minerals from the soil and your garden will also benefit from these nutrients. but overall, leaf mold does not provide much in the way of soil nutrition, so you will still need to add compost or other organic fertilizers to increase soil fertility. Leaf mold is an ideal ingredient for potting mix and in container planting where it performs a similar function to peat moss. Leaf mold is an effective moisture retaining weed barrier (mulch) for landscape and border gardens. Another bonus of leaf mold is that it is essentially weed-free. Leaf Mold can be used a variety of ways in your lawn and garden:

  • Peat substitute. Use leaf mold in place of peat because it has similar qualities and it’s a renewable resource.
  • Moisture-retaining mulch. Leaf mold can hold up to 500 times its own weight in water. Place it around (but not touching) the crowns of annuals, perennials, and vegetables to help them maintain moisture during summer. When applied to the soil surface as mulch at a depth of 3 inches, leaf mold prevents extreme fluctuations in soil temperature, keeps the soil surface loose so water penetrates easily, and retains soil moisture by slowing water evaporation. There’s no need to dig the material in at the end of the season. You can just pile more on top year after year.
  • Soil conditioner. It’s easier for roots to penetrate soil and take up nutrients when the soil is not as dense. Garden soil amended with leaf mold has a 20 percent lower bulk density than soil to which leaf mold was not added, which is a heavenly environment for plant roots.  Leaf mold also stimulates biological activity in the soil, creating a microbial environment that helps thwart pests.
  • Drought-proof soil. Soils amended with leaf mold increased their water-holding capacity by almost 50 percent. Leaf mold amended soil can hold nearly a two-week supply of water for vegetables which is great for long hot summers. But beware that this water-holding capacity can be a problem for seeds planted in early spring, because it can promote seed rot in cool, wet soil.
  • Seedling mix. Mix one part leaf mold with one part well-aged compost or worm castings for a nutrient-rich potting mixture for seedlings. Or substitute it for peat moss in potting mixes by combining it with equal parts of soil and perlite or, for a soilless mix, with an equal part of only perlite. Before using in potting mix, you should screen the leaf mold through half-inch hardware cloth (steel mesh).
  • Root feeding solution or Foliar Spray (diluted). Brew into a “tea” to use in this way.
  • Vegetable Gardening Tip: Do not add raw leaves to your vegetable garden. The nitrogen needed for their decomposition will compete with the nitrogen needs of vegetable crops.