Fall is officially upon us. You can smell it in the air and feel it in the cool mornings as you reach for a jacket. Such a nice change from this summer, when it looked like there was no end in sight to ninety-plus heat, and trying to dig a hole for a plant was almost impossible. Part of living in the South, is the heat and red clay soil, which is like trying to dig through brick when it has been a month since we have seen any rain. So these cooling temperatures and actual days of rain are a true blessing. With fall come leaves, which, leads to raking. If you don’t want to try and dig through hard red clay next summer, do something useful with the leaves this fall; make leaf mold. Leaf mold falls somewhere between shredded leaves and compost and is very easy to make.
After you have raked the leaves, put them in black garbage bags. To help speed up the process, chop the leaves up with the lawn mower first, add some water to moisten the leaves and add a little bit of garden lime, to hasten the decomposition and counter the acidity of the leaves. A cupful of blood meal will add some nitrogen. Poke the bags a few times with a pitch fork, this allows for air and rain to get in the bags. Now place the bags in a cool shady spot. Every few weeks, turn your bags over and spray with water during dry spells. By spring, you should have some leaf-mold to add to your garden planting. Enriching your soil will add badly needed nutrients to the soil and help with water retention – studies show that leaf mold holds at least five times as much moisture as ordinary topsoil. Along with that, it keeps the leaves out of our landfills and you get free soil enhancement. Earthworms love leaf mold, and the worms are great for your soil. You can place it around your shrubs and perennials as mulch or till it into your garden. Your plants will thank you and so will your back.