Leaves also come with a large number of essential and beneficial elements.
Trees take up the nutrients from the soil and subsoil and incorporate them into the wood and the leaves.
As the leaves fall in the autumn those elements are left in the tissue.
Last year we tested 4 common species of autumn leaves in my area including Birch, poplar, apple and russian olive. Maxxam analytics found that leaves have 10/15 commonly tested for trace elements that are essential or beneficial for plant growth.
The additional nutrients are easily incorporated into the nutrient cycle as the leaves break down.
This is important as the same elements from the parent material that originally formed the soil in my area has taken over 10,000 years to release nutrients to the soil and as the soil is close to chemical equilibrium slowing the process.
It usually after a year your leaf mold is ready to go. Sometimes it takes two years.
However if a point appointed to the mulch layer as I often do, a completed leaf mold is not necessary. If dedicating an area in your garden for over a year for the production of leaf mold is not in your garden plan, but you still want to get the benefits of fungus in your garden. You may turn to products. Now these products are marketed as fungally dominated compost and they do usually have high concentrations of humus.
However the fungus that were you’re trying to apply to your soil is usually killed in the production and shipping of the product.
Even if you get it home alive, usually that fungus is not well suited to the microclimate of your garden. But don’t worry, almost all garden soils in the world have thousands of species of mycorrhizal and other fungi already within them.
You don’t need to worry about going out and buying a product specifically for adding fungi to your garden soil. They’re already there.
There is however a much easier method that you can make leaf mold in your garden.
If you place your carbon-rich material like autumn leaves on top of your garden soil as a mulch, you will get all of the same benefits as it breaks down with improved moisture retention and reduced weed germination.
Using leafmold in the mulch layer or making it there will attract earthworms.
Earthworms bring a number of benefits to your soil including aeration, nutrient breakdown, growth hormone addition, and the mucus they leave behindhelps retain nutrients that would otherwise leach away.
I usually apply leaf mold in the fall before I make the next year’s pile.
As I know many of you are not in areas that have access to autumn leaves other carbon heavy materials such as wood chips can be substituted.
If you are planning on using wood chips we can use the research analyzing wood ash to give a general understanding of the nutrient value of wood chips.
Researchers in Wisconsin found that wood ash contained 12 of 15 elements needed for plant growth.
It’s been my experience that most municipalities and cities have wood chip piles that you can access for free or for very very cheap now.
Wood chips will take a lot longer to decompose and this is largely due to the climate that you live in, a good rule of thumb is between three to five years.
With that Say you can still add the wood chips to your mulch layer and they will release their nutrients over time directly into the nutrient cycle where they’re needed.
If you would like to get the same benefits of leafmold just a little faster, Worm castings can help you out. Worm castings are vermiculture from household organics including carbon containing materials such as newspaper and cardboard have high concentration of humus as well. You can even use autumn leaves in your vermicompost and combine the methods to produce a high-quality locally sourced worm casting.