(This post was written in collaboration with Ryobi but all thoughts and opinions are my own.) While fall clean-up can be a chore, it’s a great benefit to the beds when we collect the fallen leaves, make leaf mold compost, and add it to the gardens. Learn how to make leaf litter mulch with these simple tips.

Are the leaves coming down a lot where you live too? Ours have been coming down for a few weeks now, but seem to be coming down at a faster pace.

As we head towards the first frost, it’s time to start preparing the gardens for winter. I can’t believe it’s almost that time already. And part of preparing the garden for winter includes fall clean-up.

To me, cleaning up the leaves on the lawn is SO much easier than picking them up around my garden plants. My flower gardens are pretty extensive, so it is a lot of work to get the leaves out of all the beds.

Especially when they keep falling!

But it is really important to get those leaves out because allowing them to stay can smother plants and promote pest and disease problems.

And nobody wants that!

But did you know that all that leaf litter can benefit your garden soil too when you turn it into leaf mold?

Yes!

When it comes to gardening, every seasoned green thumb knows the importance of good soil. Healthy soil is the foundation upon which vibrant gardens thrive.

One of the best ways to enrich your garden soil naturally is by creating leaf mold compost. Leaf mold is easy to make and provides a range of benefits for your plants.

In this guide, we’ll chat about how easy it is to create leaf mold compost, the advantages it offers to your garden, and how it differs from regular compost.

Here’s what you need to know!

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dahlia kogane fubuki in the potager garden

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What is Leaf Mold?

When leaves decompose over time that creates leaf mold. Composted leaves are a great soil amendment that is super easy to make and significantly improves garden soil quality.

Unlike regular compost, which typically includes a mix of green and brown materials like kitchen scraps and yard waste, leaf mold compost consists solely of leaves.

The process of making leaf mold is often referred to as leaf mold composting although it’s not technically composting in the traditional sense since it doesn’t involve the same microbial breakdown as regular compost.

front pond in fall with bridge in zone 6a new jersey garden

Leaf Mold vs. Compost

Compost is made when organic material like food scraps decompose over time.

The decomposition becomes what we gardeners call “gold” because it is high in nutrients that enrich overall soil quality and promotes happy, healthy plants.

When we add both leaf mold and compost to the garden, they improve overall plant health and bloom yield, while helping plants build immunity to disease.

Leaf mold compost differs from regular compost in several ways:

  • Ingredients: Leaf mold consists solely of leaves, while regular compost includes a mix of green and brown materials like kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and more.
  • Decomposition Process: Leaf mold decomposes primarily through fungal action, whereas regular compost relies on a mix of bacteria and fungi.
  • Nutrient Content: Leaf mold has fewer nutrients than regular compost but excels at improving soil structure and moisture retention.
  • Maturation Time: Leaf mold takes longer to mature, typically between six months to two years, compared to the quicker maturation of regular compost.

I use both to feed my perennials, shrubs, and trees versus using fertilizer. To me, feeding plants starts with really good soil quality as opposed to pumping them up with artificial nutrition.

japanese maple foliage thats changing color in fall garden

Why Is Leaf Mold Good?

Unlike compost, leaf mold does not offer much in the way of soil nutrition. But rather increases water retention and improves overall soil structure.

Since leaf mold is considered to be a soil conditioner, it helps plant roots stay cooler during hot, dry weather.

In my zone 6a New Jersey gardens, that’s a huge benefit because the summer heat can be brutal. So leaf mold helps plants stay hydrated.

Here are some of the benefits of making your own leaf litter mold.

  • Improved Soil Structure Leaf mold improves soil structure by increasing its water-holding capacity and aeration. This makes it easier for plant roots to access nutrients and water.
  • Weed Suppression A layer of leaf mold on your garden beds can help suppress weeds, reducing the need for constant weeding.
  • Environmentally Friendly: Leaf mold composting is an eco-friendly way to reuse yard waste, reducing the need for landfill disposal and chemical fertilizers.
  • Sustainable Gardening: Using leaf mold aligns with sustainable gardening practices, as it encourages a natural, low-impact approach to soil improvement.
close up of changing foliage on japanese maple in wooded backyard with green garden fence

How to Use Leaf Litter Mold

After decomposition, dig leaf litter mulch into beds or apply as a mulch. It can be used in garden beds, but can also be added to planters to help keep them from drying out.

Regardless of how you use leaf mold, it’s so easy to make that it is a no-brainer when doing fall cleanup.

All you really need is a little bit of space to store your leaf litter and make the mold.

garden blogger stacy ling emptying the bag on the ryobi vacattack andWearing long sleeves, jeans, boots and gloves while working in the garden doing Fall Garden Clean-Up
The Ryobi Vacattack’s bag is easy to detach to open and dump mulched leaves.

What is Fall Cleanup?

But what is fall cleanup?

Fall clean-up typically includes:

fall foliage color in the formal garden
Garden blogger stacy ling with the ryobi vacattack

Fall Clean-Up with the Ryobi Vacattack

Ok, the Ryobi Vacattack may just be my favorite power tool for fall cleanup. I love that I can pick up leaves around my plants and not feel like I’m crushing or damaging them.

The Ryobi Vacattack is pretty easy to maneuver, sucks up the leaves really well, and collects them in this attached oversized bag.

But the best part? It mulches those leaves down in the bag that I can later dump into a pile to make leaf mold.

Doing Fall Clean-Up with the ryobi vacattack

How to Make Leaf Mold Compost

Making leaf mold compost is incredibly simple, and it requires minimal effort.

There are two ways to make leaf mold. You can either make leaf litter mulch in a pile or in plastic garbage bags.

Depending on the space you have, one method might be preferable over the other.

Here’s what you need to know!

backyard garden with bench carved from tree with japanese maple turning color and chrysanthemums

Supplies Needed:

  • Leaves
  • Rake or the Vacattack

Directions:

  • Gather Leaves: Collect fallen leaves in the fall when they are abundant. You can use a rake or a leaf blower to speed up the process.
  • Create a Leaf Pile: Pile the leaves in a corner of your garden or in a designated compost bin. If you’re using a bin, it’s a good idea to drill holes in it for aeration.
  • Let Nature Work: Unlike regular compost, leaf mold composting doesn’t require turning or adding other materials. Simply let the leaves sit and decompose naturally.
  • Patience is Key: Leaf mold takes time to fully mature, typically between six months to two years. During this period, the leaves will break down and turn into a crumbly, dark substance.
  • Use It in Your Garden: Once your leaf mold is ready, spread it over your garden beds as a leaf litter mulch, or mix it into your soil.
potager garden in fall with green garden fence and pumpkins

The Pile Method

Pile leaves in a section of the yard or a bin that is about 3’x3′. Dampen the leaf pile thoroughly, mix it up, then let it sit and do its magic.

Keep an eye on the pile though and add water when it dries out. Decomposition can take anywhere from two to three years depending on the size of the leaves in the pile.

The Plastic Garbage Bag Method

Instead of making a pile, collect leaves in a plastic garbage bag. Similar to the pile method, moisten the leaves in the bag, seal them, and cut a few holes to create airflow.

Then let it sit, but check it periodically to ensure it stays moist. If the leaves are dry, add more water.

lacey foliage on a japanese maple with changing colors in fall

The Benefit of Using the Ryobi Vacattack During Fall Clean-Up to Make Leaf Mold

With the Ryobi Vacattack’s mulching capability, the leaves will break down much quicker than if they were left fully intact. Since the Vacattack mulches leaves while doing fall clean up, you save time not having to do this in two separate steps.

And who wants to do something in two steps when you can do it all in one?

The reality is, if I wasn’t using the Ryobi Vacattack, I would skip the mulching step altogether, pile leaves, and just wait it out. So the leaves would take a lot longer to decompose.

For me, using the Ryobi Vacattack for fall clean-up is a huge benefit because I will be able to make leaf mold that much faster.

And we all want things to be done faster. Amirite?

front porch cottage gardens in fall with rudbeckia, gomphrena and sedum autumn joy, celosia and zinnias

More About Making Leaf Litter Mulch

Do you make your own leaf mold too? If so, how do you prefer to make it? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind-the-scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it to the blog. Would love to see you there too!

If you prefer to binge-watch Bricks ’n Blooms on TV, we go more in-depth with tours and posts on my YouTube channel. Would love to hang out with you there!

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Formal garden in fall with gazebo

FREE Fall Gardening Ebook

Grab my FREE Fall Gardening Guide Ebook where I share some fall gardening tips together with a handpicked selection of must-have gardening tools, supplies, and all the other things that will make your garden life easier.

Looking for Flower Garden Ideas?

If you love flowers and want to grow more in your garden, here are some posts that will get you on your way.

From tucking in flowering plants that are deer-resistant or ones that attract more butterflies and hummingbirds, to shade-loving flowers like the lenten rose, these posts will get you on your way to growing a garden that will bring joy for years to come.

Here are more cut flower and cottage garden growing tips, tricks, and design inspiration.

view of the front porch cottage garden with sugar pumpkins, sedum autumn joy, rudbeckia, celosia and snapdragons

Garden Supplies I Use

Since I’ve been gardening for well over twenty-five years, I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. Here are some of my favorites that I use in no particular order.

dahlia kogane fubuki in the potager garden

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carved wood bench in front of fall garden
learn how to make leaf mold compost using fallen leaves in autumn
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variety of vibrant dahlia flowers in a colorful cut flower garden

Small Space Gardening: The All-You-Need Guide to Growing Showstopping Dahlias in Pots

Short on growing space but want to grow dahlias? This comprehensive guide empowers you to cultivate stunning dahlias in pots. Discover the right pot size, sun needs, feeding tips, and expert techniques for endless blooms.  If you’ve got limited growing space but still want to grow beautiful showy blooms, this post is for you! Today,…
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Thanks for stopping by the blog today!

Enjoy your day! xoxo

Stacy Ling bricksnblooms logo

Want to learn more about me? I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

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fall foliage with grasses and burning bush -Achieving Fall Color in the Garden with Foliage
How to Make Leaf Mold with garden blogger stacy ling
home and garden blogger stacy ling hard at work using the ryobi vacattack to clean up fallen leavesFall Garden Clean-Up with the Ryobi Leaf Vac
Garden blogger stacy ling doing Fall Cleanup in the gardens with the ryobi vacattack to make leaf litter mold
Garden blogger stacy ling doing Fall Clean-Up on the deck using the ryobi vacattack
I even used the Ryobi Vacattack on our deck after we finished putting away all of the outdoor furniture and area rugs. It was so much easier using the Ryobi Vacattack here than blowing them off the deck and then having to clean the leaves up again from the ground.
Garden Shed with the best fall garden flowers
Fallen leaves sprinkled throughout the garden before fall clean up -Fall Clean-Up and Making Leaf Mold Compost
Gorgeous fall garden in the front yard with sedum autumn joy and garden mums
Fall Clean-Up with stacy ling using the ryobi vacattack in her cottage garden
Standing in fallen leaves in autumn -Achieving Fall Color in the Garden with Foliage
fall gardens and curb appeal ideas with tan center hall colonial -Limelight Hydrangeas are the best fall flowers

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10 Comments

  1. Great post Stacy. This looks like an amazing tool for the garden! Wish I would have known about it before I did all that work in my yard. Hopefully next year!

    1. Thank you! It is pretty awesome – I love that it can get around the base of plants easily like roses so you can clean them out really easily! xo

  2. I’ve done the black garbage bag method, without even knowing I was doing it! Though, I didn’t know to keep it damp and poke holes in the bag. Thanks for the tips! Quick question- do you just use “as is” or should you chop it down? When I did it, I stored the bags over winter and when I was ready to use them, I dumped them into an old trash can and put the string trimmer on them.

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful! If you chop it down, it will decompose faster. So you can really do it either way! Here we just dump the leaves in a pile and take from the bottom. I used it to help fill my raised garden beds in the potager garden and it worked great!