How much leaf mould should I use?

CREZIERES, France(Zone 8a)

I collected loads of leaves last autumn/fall. I coralled them in a big pile and added a kilo of composting worms. Now I have loads of nice crumbly compost. I am in the process of making a perennials bed which will mainly accommodate a large collection of Penstemons. Can anyone give advice as to the amount of leaf mould that I should dig in. a barrowload for a square yard??? More? Less??
The 'base' soil is moderately alkaline... pH ~ 7.8. It has not been tilled for ages.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

I add mulched leaves to my raised beds every spring and fall. As long as your leaves have broken down, I don't think you can add too much leaf mould. In my opinion, there are never enough leaves!

FREE DIRT! It's a wonderful thing ^_^

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I still haven't figured out how to prepare a perennial bed so that it doesn't need turning for years.

My clay has so little compost that I need to turn more under every year. I tried planting some perennials last year, but now I see the soil reverting to clay.

In another bed, I put a lot of bark and crushed rock and just a little clay. THAT bed is pretty happy, and probably top-dressing with compost will work with that soil.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Hm. One inch of compost spread all over the area and then mixed into the top ten inches of dirt would give you about a ten percent boost in organic content. I don't think that could hurt anything. I'd say at least an inch. That sounds like more than ' half a barroew per sq yard' . Just guessing. I've never had "enough at once"

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Some people grow in 50% compost or even higher. But maybe not ornamentals or perennials.

Spring City, TN

I'm growing in 50% compost and loving it. FWIW, the best bea balm I ever had was planted directly in pure compost. It was 6' tall!!!! It reseeded itself for almost a decade but got smaller and smaller as the compost was "used up" I suppose, until it was back to the advertised 3-4' tall.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

i too am sold on leaf compost!! :) were all in good company..hehehee
ive collected leaves in the fall for several yrs.. mowed them down where theyre shredded
most go into the vegy garden with rabbit manure and get spaded may next yr
the garden is nice and ready for planting..
remainder of shredded leaves go into that yrs compost..
i also have a high organic level to my gardens.. i do have really good drainage so the plants
dont have their roots sitting in soggy soil..
its good stuff !!!!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

I also put mulched leaves into large pots and sit them at the end of my raised beds. This keeps mulch handy for when I need it.

Last year I stopped counting at 100 bags of leaves. We'll start gathering again soon.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

way to go honeybee !! thats a great idea..
i too collected a TON of leaves last fall.. last 2 yrs ive gotten around
300 bags each yr..
hope to again this yr..
3 or 4 yrs ago..i collected over 100 bags..and i ran out of shredded leaves
by late spring.. LOL go figure.. :)
so.. when i hear the voice in my head.. "ok..enough on the leaves".. i ignore it..and
keep picking up leaves ..

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

tropicalnut777 - I'm so glad not to be the only one with a leaf-mulch compulsion!

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

lol..ya.. honeybee.. even with all the leaf mulch i make,compost,brining in compost,coir,peat
i always find a place to put it..:)
expand a garden area,dig more compost in..
this yr i think its certainly helped on my watering.. helped retain more moisture in the
soil.. its been so dry..and hot...
plus.. the soil biological activity is increased.. i see everywhere "soil activators" are being sold..
i just throw in shredded leaves,some disolved alfalfa meal and PRESTO !!!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

tropicalnut777 - where do you buy alfalfa meal?

I can't dig anywhere in my garden without disturbing several earthworms.

Earlier this year I made a couple of raised beds deeper and have noticed they need much less watering than the shallower ones. Buying more wooden boards has gone to the top of the list for next year.

My neighbor has offered to drive me to Lowe's in their truck, so I can pick up supplies. I have such great neighbors. Sadly, they plan on moving soon.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> I made a couple of raised beds deeper and have noticed they need much less watering than the shallower ones.

Also, if you line the wooden walls with plastic , or even just line the corners, you save considerable water lost by evaporation right through the walls.

I use the plastic bags that compost or peat or bark came in, cut open and flat, then trimmed so the tops are below soil level.

If the soil under the bed drains too fast, or is infested with aggressive roots, you MIGHT even want to line the floor of the bed.

This message was edited Aug 8, 2012 1:42 PM

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Rick, thanks for the tip regarding plastic.

We do have a problem with tree roots invading our beds. Each spring I have to cut them off!

When we first put in the raised beds, we lined the bottom with landscape fabric. That did not work out well. Even though we have hard, red clay, I believe the vegetables' roots do manage to penetrate it somewhat. The landscape fabric did not allow the roots to penetrate the clay at all, and I spent the entire summer having to keep the beds watered.

Over the years, I've been mixing the native clay with coir, compost, mulched leaves and small twigs. The deeper the beds get, the more water they hold, without getting "soggy."

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> compost, mulched leaves

I think that's what clay needs the most of. MAYBE some sand or grit, but coir or bark fines or small bark chips would serve much the same purpose. I think bark lasts longer than coir or compost (3+ years).

>> The deeper the beds get, the more water they hold, without getting "soggy."

Soundws good to me. I find that clay plus a little compost can absrob huge amounts of water, but tends not to let the ewater drain down very quickly. Eventually it perked down, I suppose.

But I like encouraging clay to stay open with some grit, crushed rock and bark shreds to open it up and let the water spread around easier. I used to have a very wet top inch or two, laying on top of quite dry soil.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

honeybee..i also was "disturbed" by cost of alfalfa meal from
gardening sources..then reading here i think in roses forum.. rose enthusiasts
use alfalfa meal with great plant results..asking about the cost..i was told
by one gal. buy rabbit feed..there is actually rabbit feed that is almost 100% alfalfa
meal..just in pellet form..
here in utah theres a feed supply store..i get a 50# bag of rabbit alfalfa pellets
for just over $12.. yippie !!
i use in my compost,as a tonic (i put 3 gal of pellets in a 50 gal bucket,let set then use as manure
its great stuff..and in line with my budget..

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

tropicalnut777 - I had wondered about buying rabbit alfalpha pellets. Thanks for the tip. Actually, I had wondered about buying rabbits and using their droppings, but then I figured the alfalpha pellets would work almost as good, and I could skip having to buy rabbits, cages, feed, etc.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Yup Honeybee!

Reading a good book about soil. It says 'Good soil is 5 percent organic' Elsewhere it says soil could have up to ten percent organic.
Let's say you add an inch and mix it with the top ten inches of actual soil. Thats ten percent. Of course, it will immediately start being digested by all the soil life.
Just a thought, when thinking about how much. Some things certainly will grow in much higher organic.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a) true..
of course depends on the plants youre growing.. i dont have any plants (right now) that
would suffer from alot of organic matter in the soil.. maybe my lavender.. but they are in area
that is mostly probably why they do so well.. that and all day sun... :)
honeybee.. if ya dont want to keep rabbits.. do check around.. rabbit manure is one of the
best manures for whatever use..
i get a couple truck loads every yr.. i use it in manure tea,composting,digging in the vegy garden (with leaves)
and spading under in the fall..
and no weed seeds !!! YEA !!!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

truck loads- that must be ALOT of rabbits!

Provo, UT(Zone 5a) lady i get a truck load from has several hutches.. i dont keep
the rabbits.. i do clean out her hutches though..
what we do for our gardening..

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Indeedy! What else explains the common love of poo!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

sallyg - I'm not sure what your book means by this.

'Good soil is 5 percent organic'

Either soil is organic - meaning it's free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, - or it's not.

I've been gardening here for six years, and don't use pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Some seedlings are started indoors under lights with the use of chemical fertilizer, but then only because I have found organic fertilizers tend to cause damping off in young seedlings.

Decatur, GA(Zone 7b)

I think the book might be distinguishing between organic and mineral, which is inorganic. In this sense I think clay would be inorganic.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Ok, guess I paraphrased too much
, In describing the content of various parts of soil, ie sand silt clay said that good soil has 5 percent organic matter. Better? The implication I think is that in proportion to those mineral parts ther should be at least 5 perccent organic particles.

I could copy from the book, later.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I'd love to read as much as you have time to type. I heard various conflicting claims about how muc h carbon (organic matter) you can store in soil.

In warm, aerated sandy soil with hyper-active microbes and insects and such (like Florida) , I heard that OM gets digested almost as fast as you can turn it under, down to only tiny % carbon.

In cold, wet, clay New England soils with months of winter and lazy bugs, OM buried under clay might last as long as Pharo's mummy (exageration).

But for middle-of-the-road soil and climate, what is a reasonable goal?
3% ?
5 % ?
7 % ?

And is that by dry weight, wet weight or fluffy volume?

I suppsoe it's academic to me: I'll keep making or buying as much compost as I can (or can afford), and try to get my beds UP TO a few % during the growing season.

I started with 0% organic clay, and I usually prefer to make another bed, rather than enrich an existing bed.

Probably the thickest layer of compost, coffee grounds or bagged steer "manure-compost blend" I EVER applied was 1". And that seemed to have been all eaten up by next Spring, when most of that soil reverted to near-clay.

Wish I had enough space and sun for cover crops!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I agree that the organic stuff we apply is constantly being used up. I'm not surprised to hear that the inch seemed gone after a year.
Red giant mustard (edible) grew so well for me last winter that I told myself to sed that in any blank space of my veggie bed this fall. I wished I could give some away but most people don't want to wash leafy greens and cook from scratch, even if it is easy. Most people I know have never eaten mustard greens. Honestly., I hadn't either till two years ago.

The book says "..Good garden soil contains 30-50% sand, 30-50% silt, and 20-30% clay, with 5-10% organic matter. You can find out how close your soils come to this ideal, loam." Then it describes mixing soil, water,water softener (Calgon) , putting in a large jar, letting it sit, measuring the depth of layers as they have settled out. I've seen that test explained elsewhere.

Then the second half of the book explains how to foster all the good soil rganisms. By doing this, it says you will create soil with ''the right porosity, resulting in water retention and drainage, as wll as aeration..."

And in the context of the original post here--it says " Rototilling and excessive soil disturbance destroy or severely damage the soil food web (good organisms population.)

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

minimizing the tilling/spading /disturbing the soil is so true as for good soil..
besides pulling weeds..which is an ongoing chore..sigh.. i spade under in the fall
all the organic matter for next yrs soil building..
and thats it.. im always amazed every june to see all that "stuff" i put in there..
(leaves,manure,straw,grass clippings) "disolved" into the soil..
i have very happy nite crawlers.. :) LOL

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Fungus also dissolve organic matter and transports the resulting nutrients through their 'bodies' into soil up to a few inches down or away.
When fungus dies, it's decayed 'body' leaves micro tunnels for the transport of air and water , and little shelters for bacteria.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

good info all !!
i always thought it interesting that soil inoculants being sold..for
some good $$ too..
as to sallyg comment.. if you have ammended your soil and created a good
diversity in your soil..
whats the phrase ..if you build it they will come.. :)
i think same with our soil..

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> mustard greens.

If you like mustard greens or collard greens, there are a many Asian Brassiacs that you might like. Young Bok Choy or Chinese cabbage, flowering Chinese cabage (Yu Choy Sum), tatsoi, komatsuna, mizuna, "Leaf Mustard / Small Gaichoy" and Gai-Lan ("Chinese broccoli").

And Mustard 'Red Frills', Brassica juncea Gai Choy.

And Italian leaf broccoli (Spigariello Liscia / Broccolo Spigariello / Brassica oleracea var. 'Spigariello' ).

Most of those are good salad greens when young, or steamed, boiled or sauteed when full-size. Most are mild, but if you like mustard greens, mizuna can be 'zingey'.

I happen to be fasincated by them, and buy big packets when I buy those seeds. I have lots of some of them, and like to give them away to anyone who might try them. Any interest? That's an open offer to anyone on the thread.

I happen to have a huge harvest of seeds from the Italian leaf broccoli. They're too strongly-flavored for me to use in salad, but steamed or boiled, they taste like brocolli heads.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I began exploring Asian greens after growing /Oriental Niche Mix' leafy greens from some seed source (Pinetree or cheap seeds) Thats when I saw how cold hardy the Mustard is.
Komatsuna is awesome- mild , spinachy.. Suffering terribly from bugs right now but last fall it survived, grew great after frost nailed the bugs.
I have an Augula thats ready for world domination. Blooming and growing all summer to a three foot by three foot blob.

My only complaint is- there are only so many ways I know to enjoy cooked greens.

So when the Mustard gets too big and hot next spring,, I plan to chop the rest of the plant into the soil as green manure.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> So when the Mustard gets too big and hot next spring,, I plan to chop the rest of the plant into the soil as green manure.

!! LOL !!

I've tried to list all the ways you can cook Bok Choy at different stages of grwoth from bean sprouts to sun-dried leaves in soup, but now I have to add:

"or feed it to the compost heap when FULLY mature"

CREZIERES, France(Zone 8a)

I found a great deal of useful stuff in the se replies (thanks to all), but, unfortuantely with only about 1 cubic yards of leaf mould, I wouldn't have enough for the rest of the garden to try for a 50/50 soil/leaf mould mix. Hence, in the end I decided to focus the available leaf mould where it would do the most good, so for each small plant that I planted, I dug a large hole (~ 1' deep and a bit more around) . That I half-filled with a soil/leaf mould mix of roughly 60% sieved leaf mould and 40% soil. Then I formed it into a sphere before pushing the root ball of the incoming plant into the top of the sphere.
The idea was to make a form about the same shape as the root ball of the mature plant so that the plant was growing into the good soil. I infilled with ordinary soil, but covered with my 'mulch' of choice which is the rough soil that it left after one has passed the soil through a " riddle. I find that this much reduces drying of the soil below.
They seems to be doing ok, though it will be middle of next year to see it that has worked well.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Rule # 47 There is never enough leaf mould. Never ever.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> I decided to focus the available leaf mould where it would do the most good,

>> I dug a large hole (~ 1' deep and a bit more around) . That I half-filled with a soil/leaf mould mix of roughly 60% sieved leaf mould and 40% soil.

In one way that sounds very wise. The best soil and best population of beneficial microbes will be right where they will do the most good.

But, if your soil drains very poorly, the one-foot-deep holes may fill with too muc h water and not drain fast enough to keep the roots aerated.

If your soil, especially your subsoil, drains well, this is no problem. But if you are gardening on top of really mdense clay or raockl, yo9u might need to assure that excess water can drain out of the bottoms of those holes, downhill to some point lower than the b ottom of the holes. Or to a lower spot that does drain well.

Some say that roots won't grow out of a hole where the soil is much much better than surrounding soil. But I think that if soil is soft enoguh, roots will go wherever there water and nutrients can be found.

When all the compost is digested, the soil may subside. That's fine for annuals but may bother perennials.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

i know this is a bit off topic for this thead..but it is leaf related..
im wondering if different areas will have leaf drop sooner than "normal"?
here in central utah.. the scrub oak are already red.. i think thats a bit early for them..
friends with cabins in mts say..the decideous trees leaves are turning brown..and just dropping..
we will need cold temps in the valley here to get the leaves to drop..but i wonder with how dry its been
if leaves will drop soon...??? usually in the valley here..i dont start collecting leaves to mow down till
late oct.. last was a super mild winter..and i was mowing leaves in mid nov.. weird.. LOL

CREZIERES, France(Zone 8a)

Re: drainage - there is no problem in that regard - limestone hillside, water just drains away downhill and I added tons of grit while digging the bed. I'm a bit of a nut about drainage. Also as they are Penstemons, they need fairly well drained soil.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

I am concerned about adding only partially composted stuff to a garden full of plants. I would think that having the stuff on top of lilies, delphiniums, monarda, to say nothing of peonies might make them rot come spring. Trying to dump it between plants is quite a chore.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

ive used leaf mulch for yrs.. some of my perennials i piled alot of leaves
ontop.. they did just fine.. it would depend on the long as they have good
drainage as cinemike mentioned.. i like on old riverbottom soil..TONS of
i have really good sure that has been one reason i dont have plants
rotting from heavy mulching..
other thing i would think u are concerned about is really cold..maybe short periods of warming
then freezing again.. heavy mulching can be a solution to this problem..
i grew up in south dakota..many times in january we'd get a warm spell 70F then plunge
back down to below 0F.. my parents mulched their perennials heavily with great sucess..

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