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using leaves as fertilizer/mulch

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

A while back I posted a vent about how poorly my plants were doing, and I received tons of encouragement from lots of you (thanks again for that). In that discussion I mentioned how poor some of my soil was, and someone recommended raising my beds using dead leaves and other organic matter. A friend of mine who has a ton of trees on her property is saving her bagged leaves for me to layer on some of my beds. My friend's nosy neighbor said she wouldn't do what I was planning b/c the leaves won't decompose over the winter and will grow mold, which can harm my plants. Is this true, and should I not use the leaves in my beds? I'm planning to kind of till the the leaves into the top layer of soil (which I've already fertilized & added a bit of top soil to) with my Hound Dog, and then will till again in the spring before stuff starts coming up. Will this be enough to prevent mold or is there something else I should do instead? TIA!

Dover AFB, DE(Zone 7a)

You have a good plan. What she is talking about is big layers of leaves, they turn into a stinky sheet of impenetrable mess. Chopping them up with a lawnmower and then tilling them in would be wonderful for your soil.

Ancram, NY

nanbernier is right about the leaves. I took a big wheelbarrow and mixed in FINELY-shredded leaves but also added store bought topsoil (Scott has a good one which has added Peat etc) and a couple bags of a humus/manure mix. This way, the nutrients last longer than plain old leaves. Since I have mostly acid loving plants I threw in a bag of Holly-tone fertilizer and stirred it all up in the wheelbarrow with a small shovel and then used this mixture. If you have clay soil, you need to make more amendments like adding some sand and more peat because clay is like cement to plants (so I read). It helps to know what you will be planting because you don't want to go through the trouble of amending the soil for acid-loving plants only to find you planted alkaline-loving plants! It really does help to KNOW your plants. I call my system "gardening for dummies". All my alkaline-loving plants are far away from my acid-lovers and I fertilize both areas differently without trying to figure out what likes what. No guesswork! You may just have the wrong plants in the wrong soil. It is amazing how quickly a plant will perk up when moved to an area more "acid" or "alkaline". If you need more help, let us know the type of soil you have around your house and some of the plantings you put in. I amended my soil without even needing a raised bed but as I said, clay soil is a little trickier which I do not have, luckily. Hope this helps!

Prattville, AL(Zone 8a)

jc, For your own self-confidence, please consider doing the following: google "leaf mold" - there are several excellent articles that will validate the value of using our falling leaves to improve our soil. For your doubting friends, point them towards the forests of Illinois. By collecting leaves and chopping them up a bit, we are simply trying to assist nature. Leaves are one of our most important free resources. Leaf mold is not house mold. Since I doubt that your doubting friends will traipse through your beautiful forests, suggest to them that they look at various bagged soil amendments at garden centers, Lowe's or HD. Why do we silly gardeners buy bagged humus?
It's nothing but decayed forest products, which includes decayed leaves. Just trying to help - I've now vacated my soapbox (which somewhat tells my age). Good gardening! By the way, I'm a transplanted Hoosier who learned about the value of leaves from my mother and school teachers.

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

Thank you again for the suggestions. I will go ahead with my leafy fertilizer in full confidence. :) britbrighton . . . I do have a lot of clay in some areas of my yard, unfortunately. I've managed to loosen it up a bit with some peat in the worst areas. In others I'm layering. I'm sticking to mostly native or near-native plantings . . . most of my newer things are doing quite well now. I'm so excited to see what next season brings! peony: I thought the same thing about the forest, i.e., if dead leaves are so bad, how do forests survive & thrive? I had always thought that decayed organic matter was great food for plants; thanks for reassuring me. Now off to read about leaf mold on the internet . . .

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Jcoakley, I think your friends neighbour is thinking you were about to put a ton of new leaf litter onto your beds, as stated before too thick a mulch of leaves can alter the acidity of the soil depending on the type of leaf used, but doing it the way you plan is the best thing for your type of soil, it allows air in and when the leaves decompose, they will add nutrients to the soil also, it will help warm the soil up come spring and your plants will thank you for it, IF you want to add leaf litter on the top of your soil, just add enough to make it about an inch or two thick, then they will rot down no bother, I have to do that way to offer winter protection from frost for things like Rhododendrons which are quite shallow rooters and this helps keep them snug like a blanket. go ahead and enjoy your leaf litter, best wishes. WeeNel.

Matewan, WV(Zone 6b)

I'm glad I run upon this thread. A couple of days ago, I decided to take a chance and plant my RoS cuttings, the ones that did so well this summer with plenty of blooms. When I took them out of the 5 gallon bucket, most of them had roots at least 12 inches long. My soil is so rocky that I bought a bag of plain black soil to help lighten it up. My husband dug the holes about a foot deep and I took both kinds of soil and mixed them together and put the root ball on top of a 6" mound I formed, then I spread out the roots and then fill in more mixed soil on top of that.

But, I've been thinking that maybe the roots are too shallow (6 inches) and might freeze. So I too was considering putting some type of mulch on top of the ground around each plant. I thought of the leaves that are now falling to help keep the roots warm.... But since I saw this thread I'm not sure if I should.

Do you think 6 inches is too shallow for the roots even if I put some type of mulch on top????

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Hi Von, if you have just planted out the rose cuttings, you could replant them a but deeper than six inches, if you had only just rooted them this year, I would have been inclined to wait and plant them out next spring as the roots will be tender, but what you have done to the soil is the right thing to do for ALL roses, they like a rich airy soil and loads of organic matter added for feed and helps moisture retention deep down at the roots. a mulch will not harm the roses and will do them good, just dont pile the wet new fallen leaves up against the stems or rot could set in and spoil all your work. if you only have the one stem on each cutting, you could place an empty clear drinks carton over the stem/root area for winter protection, just remove to cap, cut off the bottom and place the container over the rose, like a mini greenhouse and then add your mulch, the carton will stop the mulch going against the stem too, sink the wide bottom of the carton into the earth for stability, by removing the cap from the container, you will allow air to flow onto the stem. good luck. WeeNel.

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

Von, when you wrote "RoS" did you mean Rose of Sharon? If you did, I must share my experience with them. They seem to be practically indistructible. I have a very large RoS tree in front of my house that reseeds like crazy. I'm always pulling seedlings out of the lawn and even out of the cracks of the sidewalks. There was one growing out of the crack between my house and a block of cement which I neglected to pull out. Much to my surprise this seedling, now standing about 2 ft. tall, bloomed late this summer! I guess my point is that if seedlings that weren't even planted can survive Chicago winters, your cuttings planted 6" deep should have no problem surviving your winter without any special care.

Matewan, WV(Zone 6b)

Thanks for the advice guys. Thanks WeeNel for that idea. I had thought of using a plastic 2 liter bottle but I didn't think of cutting it off from the bottom and taking the lid off as the vent.

The original hole is 12 inches deep X 12 inches wide but because of how hard and FULL of rocks the soil is and I didn't want the root ball to grow around and around, I made a 5-6 inch mound of dirt in the middle of the hole to set the root ball on so it would grow outward with a better chance to get a good hold of the surrounding land.

Yes Sharon, it is Rose of Sharon cuttings from my SIL's full grown bush. Her bush is one that is sterile and don't reproduced from seed. I let them grow all summer and they produced beautiful full size blooms. I planted them about 10ft apart so that next spring I can plant, hopefully, the white RoS in between.

BTW, you are the one who sent me 25 seeds from you white RoS bush. I planted them and 18 began to grow.....I will keep them in the house for the winter and plant them outside in the spring. I know they may not turn out white, but out of 18, hopefully 6 of them will be. I'm using them as a privacy hedge along my property line.

One more question. The dirt/rock ground and the plain black dirt I purchased doesn't have any nutrients in it to feed them during the winter (my property is fill dirt - mostly rocks, should I use something like a fertilizing spike near the plant?

Chicago, IL(Zone 5b)

Hi Von, I didn't realize you were the same person I sent the seeds to. Happy to hear they are growing. When my big tree bloomed this year, some of the flowers were white, and others had a pale pink tint to them. The pink flowers were especially pretty. The one that bloomed from seed had only white flowers.
P.S. Let me know if you need more seeds.

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