Trusting in the experience of the master gardeners who responded to my last post (thank you!) and the magnolia’s own evolution I decided to mulch the tree with its own leaves. The leaves have been spread out to cover most of the area from trunk to drip line. I am hoping these leaves will actually perform a few jobs simultaneously:
1. Moderate the soil temperature & hold in water and soil as any mulch will;
2. Protect the magnolia’s roots. Unlike more forgiving trees, magnolia roots are delicate and even small disturbances (looking at you Mr. Letter Carrier) can kill a tree; and,
3. Smother the St. Augustine grass circling the tree. Bonus: maybe the nitrogen in the grass will help turn those leaves into a nice compost.
But what to do with the mountains of pecan leaves? And when I say mountains I mean piles much taller than I stand.
in the past I have used them to make compost and as a mulch. I am liberal with their use and I’ll be honest — I still have a mound left over from last year. So this year I am going to try something new: DIY leaf mold.
Leaf Mold is Not Compost
So I learned today that leaf mold is not compost. Compost is a product of bacterial processes; leaf mold is created by fungi. Compost can be made pretty darn quickly. I get multiple harvests most years. But leaf mold apparently takes a long time — about 9 months in warm places and up to three years in colder areas. If the leaves hurry up and fall from the trees right now my leaf mold will be ready for next September.
Basically, just add water. The leaves need to be moist for the fungus to grow. Some people get fancy and build cages to hold the leaves. Some people put the leaves in bags that have air holes. I am going to be lazy and just keep them in a big pile. I think I -might- lay a tarp on top to help keep the moisture in.
Benefits of Leaf Mold
Leaf mold does not contain much in the way of the major nutrients (nitrogen, potassium or phosphorus) but it usually contains a lot of trace minerals. I plan on using the whole batch in a new planting area. I am not going to do any digging there even though it is mostly compacted clay and virtually every site on the internet tells me I am supposed to dig it up to loosen and ‘work’ the soil. I would rather let the leaf mold do all the hard work for me. Its texture should immediately improve the tilth but most importantly leaf mold has the potential to stimulate biological activity in the soil. A lot of the area where the leaf mold is destined to end up looks inert and barren to me. I have poked a few holes into the clay but only rarely have I found any sign of subterranean life. I am hoping the leaf mold can repair that. My long term goal is to create a mini forest around the pecan tree and hollies already present. Is there a better way to begin than building humus? If so, do tell.
Of course everything I’ve said here is theoretical. Think it will work? It feels like a slow approach to gardening in a world where I could just go to the hardware store and have something installed over a weekend.