Instead of removing fallen leaves to the curb, recycle them by turning them into a soil amendment. Leaf mold improves the structure and water-holding ability of soil.
It's free, easy-to-make, and readily available making it ideal for frugal gardeners. If you don't have enough leaves in your own yard, ask neighbors for theirs. Before you use leaves that have fallen on your neighbors' lawns, be sure to ask them if the grass has recently been sprayed with chemicals. If so, don't use the leaves. Do not use leaves that have been raked into the street for municipal pickup, because they may contain lots of sand, fuel, or oil residues.
There are several ways to make leaf mold.
- Pile leaves in a sheltered, inconspicuous area of your yard and leave them for two year
- Make a 3-by-3-foot "cage" from stakes and chicken wire. Speed up the leaves' rate of decomposition by running a lawn mower over the pile a few times. Be sure to turn the pile occasionally.
Ways to use leaf mold in your garden.
• Use leaf mold in place of peat because it has similar qualities and it's a renewable resource.
• Moisture-retaining mulch. Place it around (but not touching) the crowns of annuals, perennials, and vegetables to help them maintain moisture during summer.
• Soil conditioner. It's easier for roots to penetrate soil and take up nutrients when the soil is not as dense
• Drought-proof soil. The amended soil could hold nearly a two-week supply of water for vegetables. This water-holding capacity can be a problem for seeds planted in early spring, because they may rot in the cool, wet soil.