Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Leaf Mold – Better than Mulch

Mary Stone, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone,Gardening tips, Garden Blogs, Stone Associates Landscape Design, Garden Blog, Leaf Mold, Leaf Mold as Mulch

Hello fellow readers,

Is fall a good time to mulch, asked John of Washington NJ? I think so, especially because when spring arrives there’s much to do in the garden and for me, the madness of the season speedily unfolds. This spring, like most springs, mulching didn’t happen despite my best intentions.

Mary Stone, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone,Gardening tips, Garden Blogs, Stone Associates Landscape Design, Garden Blog, Leaf Mold, Leaf Mold as Mulch

While visiting a new client nearby, my friend and design colleague Marty Carson suggested leaf mold would be a far better mulch.

We’ve talked before about the detriments of generic wood mulches and dyed mulches which are often made from construction debris containing pressure treated wood chock full of chemicals. Hence one reason why hemlock mulch, particularly when made from local fallen trees, is by far my preference. Recently I was chatting with a friend and design colleague while visiting a client nearby who just put hemlock mulch around their perennial garden. Marty suggested leaf mold would be far better, adding that wood chips steal nitrogen from the soil much needed by plants. So, I put on my research cap and learned fresh wood, especially sawdust which is a no-no around plants, is the culprit of nitrogen theft far more so than aged wood such as naturally aged hemlock mulch. By the way, not all hemlock mulch sold is aged. Aged hemlock mulch is a pleasing deep burgundy-brown while fresh hemlock mulch, not ideal, is reddish.

Mary Stone, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone,Gardening tips, Garden Blogs, Stone Associates Landscape Design, Garden Blog, Leaf Mold, Leaf Mold as Mulch

Leaf mold is simply composted leaves that are packed with minerals.

Leaf mold is simply composted leaves that are packed with minerals. When added to your garden they’ll feed earthworms and beneficial microbes, mixed in they’ll lighten clay soils, and used as mulch they’ll help retain moisture and suppress weeds. You can make leaf mold by simply raking leaves into a big pile and letting them decompose. If shredded, which is easy to do by running over them a few times with the lawn mower before raking them up, they’ll decompose faster. After one to three years your leaves will break down to a rich, earthy smelling black material like compost. There is a technique to make leaf mold in plastic bags punched with holes, adding water to moisten along with a scoop of soil which accelerates the process to six to twelve months.

John’s question has inspired me to lay down two to three inches of leaf mold this fall after the perennials are dormant. That way over the winter the nutrients can sink into the soil to nourish roots which remain active all winter absorbing nutrients for next year’s growth. As with any mulch, I’ll be sure to keep it away from the stems or trunks of plants to prevent rot, disease, or critter damage. Come spring the leaf mold will serve its role of suppressing weeds and I’ll be well ahead of the game. Humm, we’ll see… Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com

Mary Stone, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone,Gardening tips, Garden Blogs, Stone Associates Landscape Design, Garden Blog, Leaf Mold, Leaf Mold as Mulch

Seems only fitting I began my leaf mold mulching below hellebores gifted from Marty’s garden. They already look happy :^)

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary
  1. Dan Reply

    Is there any good reasons why you couldn’t distribute the freshly shredded leaves right into the plant beds? I don’t have an area for composting at the moment.

    • Mary Stone Reply

      Hello Dan, Great question! As long as you shred them and don’t apply them too thickly, which could inhibit good water flow or trap too much water, you should be good. And, it is a great way to use the confetti of nutrients! Thanks for asking and for reading my column, Mary

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