Leaf mold as soil medium

organicgardener4410February 19, 2014

My growing season is about to begin and I have a rasied bed filled with decomposed leaf mold. The leaf mold is probably 2 years old but hasn't been used yet. I built the raised bed and filled it completely with the leaf mold. I read that leaf mold can't be used for soil medium and another said you might be able to, just try it. Ive got my whole growing season ahead of me so I don't have time to try it so I coming to y'all for advice. from what I've read it's an additive not a base. So, am I stuck?
Do I need to dig out half and till some soil from my yard into it to make a 50/50?
Can I just add some yard soil or other product to it to make my veggies happy? If so what?

Thanks for any advice!

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Soil is a mixture of mineral (sand, silt, and clay, about 90 plus percent of the mix) and organic matter (that leaf mold that should be around 6 to 8 percent of the mix). What you have is a soilless mix that may allow fairly good plant growth or may not. Some people report good results with what you have while others report failure.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 6:10AM
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Natures_Nature(5 OH)

Your results depends on how decomposed the leaf mold is. If it is so decomposed, you cannot tell it is leaf mold, you will have good rests, generally. If the leafs are not decomposed, just more less shredded, you will have trouble, in general.

It's hard to tell you without seeing what you are working with, i dont want to lead you wrong..

A sure way of success is taking all the uncomposted leaves out, filling it back up with quality compost/soil, then mulch with the leaves you just shoveled out.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 10:33AM
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Natures_Nature(5 OH)

I'm interested to hear what others think about using leaf mulch as a growing medium. I was seriously thinking about starting my seeds in leaf mold this year..

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 10:38AM
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In my experience it worked extremely well. I used to have a very sandy loam in my garden, so I would mix mold and soil. Also, the mold had a small manure component. There has to be a substantial amount of finished compost but quarter inch pieces of leaves are OK. Keep in mind that what the OP describes will be in fact earthworm castings, and these work all the time. Mine had quite a bit of earthworm processing too, even though I made my pile on top of an old concrete patio. The worms would all come in from the surrounding soil.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 11:29AM
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Mine is a mix of crushed/shredded leaves, worm castings & leaf mold. The moisture retention is phenomenal & frequent compost applications melt right into it. Ive had some success sowing seeds of tomatos, basil, spinach, radishes & many other different herbs & perennials right into it. Surface sown seeds or those sown shallowly seem to do the best for me.
Natures_Nature, try it. Part of the fun of gardening & growing things is experimenting & learning as you go :)

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:04PM
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Natures_Nature(5 OH)

"Natures_Nature, try it. Part of the fun of gardening & growing things is experimenting & learning as you go :)"

I will experiment.. My main concern is damp off, everyone freaks about a "sterile" medium.. This seems a liitle ridiculous, taking in account no plant was ever in a sterile medium before, most plants are covered in tons of microorganisms.. These organisms is what helped these plants survive, they adapted the them for how long? Having a basic understanding of the soil food web tells you, the first thing that enters a sterile medium is most likely pathogens, because the beneficials are lacking. Now if those organisms were there like they are supposed to be, would we have damp off and other problems? Most people over water, or keep their soil too moist for too long, leading to damp off with any medium.. I trully believe damp is more about other factors like overwatering, poor air circ, too hot, other then sterile mediums..

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 10:50AM
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Damp off is more a concern for indoor seedling starting. Outdoors the soil surface dries quickly and there is good wind/air circulation. I have never head of anyone direct sowing outside be concerned about a sterile medium. unless its a complaint that their soil seems sterile :)

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 2:34PM
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Natures_Nature(5 OH)


You are correct. I was speaking of using leaf mold as a indoor seed starter, I'm sorry if I didn't make myself clear.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 6:03PM
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Leaf mold is best used as a soil conditioner rather than a container medium.

It's got excessive moisture retention properties and quite small nutrient content for most leaf source materials.

Unless it's fully composted (and/or depending on the source) there may be tannin and phenol concerns, especially for seedlings...as well as inviting further fungal opportunities if it's not fully composted.

Long story short...wonderful soil conditioner...crappy container component as a sole or major component...risky seed starting medium that's hard to quickly remediate if it gets too moist.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 6:28PM
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Thanks for all the great comments. I agrre about the moisture retention. I dug my hand into it this afternoon and it was very moist! I'm going to put a pic up soon so that y'all can tell me for sure if its decomposed enough and maybe help others for their comparison.. My additional question based on the comments what if I start all seed inside using bought soil and then transplant? Would I have better or worse success rate in your opinion?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 9:33PM
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To transplant into my soil I scrape the leaf mold/organic matl. into a ring & transplant into the native soil. I have been very successful with nursery starts of vegetables, annuals & perennials so I dont think you would have any problem with plants started indoors.
Hope that helps.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 10:30PM
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I would be wary of using leaf molds indoors.

"Pestalotiopsis clavispora has been reported to cause a number of plant diseases, including diseases of blueberry and avocado plants.2,3 To our knowledge, this is the first case of human infection caused by P. clavispora."


Here is a link that might be useful: link for above

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 11:26AM
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