It’s easy to make leaf mold, but there are a few tricks that speed up the process. If you just make a pile of your raked leaves, they will decompose (unevenly) in two or three years. If you chop the same leaves into small pieces and compost them, they will decompose completely within less than a year. We used to chop the leaves by running them through a wood chipper, but we have found that a lawn mower does a much better and faster job. We just rake the leaves into rows and run the lawn mower over them (using a blade dedicated for this purpose!).

This shows part of this year’s mulch pile… the entire pile is thirty feet long and four feet wide at the bottom, and after nearly three months it has settled down to being three and a half feet high. This pile will supply all the mulch we will need next year… and except for the time and labor, this huge quantity of mulch is absolutely free.

We choose an out of sight location and layer the chopped leaves in a long pile, being careful to wet each layer thoroughly as we go. This is a very important step, because if the leaves are not completely moistened, the pile will not heat up, and without the heat, the leaves will not decompose. The pile will start to heat up in three or four days and will reach temperatures of up to 140°F (and should stay near that level for several weeks) without further attention. And because the leaves are already in small pieces and have been well wet down, the entire pile will fully decompose without being turned.

This pile is now almost three months old, and the leaf mold looks like this. The pile is still hot and the leaves are still decomposing. By next spring we will have a practically unlimited supply of wonderful black leaf mold. I work it into the soil and also use it as a thick mulch around all the hostas, putting down a fresh layer each spring. The hostas and the earthworms love it, and the thickness of the mulch helps the soil to retain moisture and is a great weed control, too.

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Alex

What’s the difference between leaf mold and compost? How do you use them differently?

PS. I LOVE YOUR SITE! :)

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Alex, our leaf mold is just composted leaves… we don’t add anything else. The compost from the compost pile started life as a variety of things ranging from vegetable peelings, garden weeds, wood shavings (animal bedding) and manure from our goat, grass clippings, hay, etc. The end results look pretty much the same. We use the leaf mold as a mulch and both the leaf mold and regular compost as a soil amendment.

Nicci

Do you have two areas — one that is working on last years leaves, and one that is a year in the making ready to spread in the spring?

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Nicci, we usually have more than two. Right now we have a three-year-old pile, a two-year-old pile, one with last fall’s leaves, and one with this spring’s leaves. We’re using the three-year-old pile right now, and if we need to we will use the two-year-old pile. They’re both like black soil… beautiful stuff.

Michelle Morgan

How much ground do you expect this mulch pile to cover?

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Michelle, I have no idea because I have never thought of the mulch in those terms. The answer would also depend on how deep a layer of mulch we put down. We just use the mulch as the need arises… my husband makes more every spring and fall so we always have these huge quantities and can use all we want. It’s a wonderful excess to have!

Ryan W

I wish I had that many leaves to compost! Maybe my neighbors will “let” me collect their leaves!?

Jay

Our lawn care service just piled chopped leaves by the sidewalk for city removal in the near future. About 50% Black Walnut and 50% Maple. Previous years I used them to mix with my usual compost and used during following year. I read pro and cons about Black Walnut, but my Hostas and other shade plants are growing just fine under huge Walnut tree.

Because I leave early in the year and return in the Spring, I am tempted to use these leaves w/grass cuttings as mulch right now to spare myself days of weeding after my return. Would it be mistake to do so? Leaves are chopped quite fine by lawn mower and they are wet. Does it have to be “composted”? Please advise. Thank you.

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Jay, I have had absolutely no experience with black walnut leaves, so I am afraid my advice won’t be worth much. The leaves we use are almost entirely maple, and we do compost them before we use them as mulch. I know that using uncomposted leaves is not recommended if the leaves are used whole, because they tend to pack down and smother the soil. Since your leaves are chopped, I would guess that they might be OK to use as a mulch without composting them first… but this is only a guess.

I would suggest calling a good landscaping company or a good gardening center and asking them this question. They should be able to tell you if the uncomposted leaves can be used as a mulch.

Sorry I can’t be of more help.

Derek

Shirley, thanks for the article. You mentioned that you use a dedicated lawn mower blade. Do you mean that it is a blade specifically made for grinding up the leaves, or just that you only use it for the leaves, but it is a regular blade? Either way, why? Thanks!

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Derek, the blade we use for grinding the leaves is a mulching blade, and it does a fine grind, which means they compost much more completely. We bought a new lawn mower this year, so now my husband is using the old lawn mower and the mulching blade as a “dedicated” lawn mower for this job. Why? We use a different blade for the leaves because he grinds up so many of them, and grinding leaves dulls up the blade very quickly. During the last couple of weeks he has collected and ground up 115 thirty-gallon totes PACKED full of leaves, and that is just the beginning. Having a dedicated blade or lawn mower saves wear and tear on the lawn mower we use for mowing the lawn.

Rita

Shirley, I just want to say what a pleasure it is to a read your posts. You obviously paid attention in English class which is a trait not so common these days. It is appalling how people seem frantic to express themselves and in their haste butcher both spelling and grammatical rules. I am glad to know about your mulching techniques. I have also gathered leaf mold in the woods to build my soil and am now wanting to mulch all of my garden with leaf mold. We seem to have more heat and less rain these days and I need to conserve moisture. Hope you have an amazing garden season.

Stephanie

I’ve just learned how to make leaf mold! Thank you very much.

judy

with modifications last fall I managed to gather enough leaves to fill two ‘towers’ five feet high and about that diameter–by this last spring they had settled into a lovely not-quite-composted pile, with grass added in, and once they’d been spread i planted our potatoes in them, and one roma tomato plant. I also added an iron tablet to each hill. the potatoes outdid themselves with clean produce, healthy leaves, and an abundance of potatoes. The roma is even now producing 3and 4 oz fruit. Thank you for this, i’ve had a wonderul time with this and plan to use the process from now on. =)