by Charlene Burgi
Maybe that quote isn’t exactly what the California gold miners were spouting, but the hills are sporting all kinds of gold despite the heat wave we are all experiencing!
Golden treasures come to us in many forms. In early summer we witnessed the grasses on the hills turning into waves of gold. Many of our summer annuals and perennials sport brilliant shades of yellow and gold. Autumn trees display rich golds, yellows, ambers and reds. Winter is no exception with the golden yellow flowers found on mahonia and witch hazel, or even witnessed on the evergreen needles of various conifers such as Chamaecyparis ‘Sungold.’
Viewing the gold found in nature is one thing. Capturing the gold is something else. No, I am not suggesting panning for nuggets—I am talking about creating leaf gold … er, leaf mold when leaves fall!
Much to my surprise, I heard someone talking about the chore of raking up the falling leaves and putting them in the bin to be taken away. Taken away?! This information startled me. This stuff is gold! Leaf mold is rich in organic material, and shade gardens soak up that richness like no other mulch. The best part is the leaves from your own trees are free!
You might be asking what makes leaf mold worthy of comparing it to gold:
- Leaf mold contains almost two times more minerals than manure.
- When applied, it provides the perfect nutrition for a healthy microbial environment.
- The nutrients in the leaves will transfer into the soil to feed the trees from which they fell—recycling at its best!
- The roughage found in leaf mold will improve soil condition. Improved soil equates to greater moisture retention for water savings.
- Making leaf mold is very easy.
- By raking leaves you are getting an amazing workout without going to the gym. (Okay, I stretched this one a bit.)
Just how easy is it to make leaf mold? Simply place the leaves in a black plastic garbage bag, wet the leaves, and close the bag with a twisty. Punch some holes in the bag for air exchange, place the bag in the sun, and turn the bag over a few times a month. If you have more leaves than garbage bags (or room for bags of leaves), create a four-foot-diameter cylinder wire bin, leaving it open at the top and bottom. Fill the cylinder with leaves. This method will take more time for the leaves to break down. Shredding the leaves before putting them into the cylinder will expedite the process. Wet the leaves in the cylinder from time to time and let nature break the leaves into rich organic matter.
Note I said these processes are for making leaf mold, not leaf mulch, which requires mixing the greens with browns, etc. Nor did I mention shredding the leaves and placing the shredded leaves directly on the planting beds. These are both accepted methods for using leaves, but not for making leaf mold.
One word of caution: Not all trees are created equal. For example, eucalyptus and black walnut leaves contain toxins that would be great to use in areas where vegetation is undesirable. Pine needles and other thick, waxy leaves such as live oak will take years to break down and might be better shredded and added to the compost bin. These two types of leaves are also very acidic and would best be used in areas where blueberries, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons grow.
The reward for using this type of gold in your garden is priceless. Plants will thank you for your efforts.