Mulching with leaves

gardenfanatic(MO zone5b)October 29, 2008

Since it's that time of year when we can get boatloads of leaves, I wanted to comment on this.

Last fall I mulched some of my beds with leaves, some not. I noticed this spring that the beds that had been mulched with leaves had a lot activity from robins. So I'm assuming those beds must have had more worms. So if you want more worms, mulching with leaves is a good way to achieve that.

Deanna

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Deanna, you have observed something that I have been telling people here for years, and since the presence of earthworms indicates an active Soil Food Web and that is an indication of a healthy soil the beds that you mulched should have plants that grow better, healthier, and less prone to insect pests and diseases.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 6:51AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Most definitely they are one of the very best mulches there is and the resulting leaf mold as they break down is a excellent soil improver too.

We like to use shredded leaves as they decompose faster and stay in place through the winter winds better but either way - whole or shredded - they are Mother Nature's mulch.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 10:48AM
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gaijingirl(6b)

When you use leaves for mulch and then have a lot of leaf mold around your home, do you think that would affect a person with mold allergies?

Not sure if anyone has any experience with this, but I have been thinking about it recently.
I've developed mold allergies since moving to Tennessee, which I do the weekly immunization shots for, and I know it's one of my biggest allergy triggers. However, I'd really like to do the leaf mulch thing and think it would be beneficial for my garden.
But, wouldn't I be kicking myself later if I made myself constantly sick because of it!?

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 2:01PM
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gardenfanatic(MO zone5b)

I do shred leaves before I use them, especially since I have mostly oak and maple. Wouldn't be practical to be spreading them around whole. It makes a very nice looking mulch.

Deanna

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 4:31PM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

gaijingirl: The term "leaf mold" refers to broken down leaves. Composted, if you will, but no nitrogen is used in the process, only damp leaves, over a period of time. It's not a particular mold spore I don't think.

Really, just about everything has the potential to carry mold spores, inside and outside your home. There is mold in soil, and that is a good and normal thing. For my allergies, messing with and turning my compost sets me off more than anything. If you have severe allergies, like anaphalactic type reactions or severe asthma, gardening at all just might not be your safest choice of hobbies.

Some of us just become bitten by the gardening bug, and and suffer the irritating consequences. (In my case, allergic to mold, tree, weed, and grass pollen. Irritating and annoying, but manageable with pills). If your symptoms are more severe, avoiding the garden really is your safest choice.

Karen

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 5:47PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Composted leaves or "leaf mold" is primarily inhabited by fungi, not molds nor bacteria.

Dave

Here is a link that might be useful: Leaf Mold FAQ

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 6:32PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Anytime you pile up things such as leaves and they stay moist they can develop molds that can cause people with allergies problems. If lawn grass is kept damp for a few days these molds develop. People with Asthma and other allergies need to be aware of the sources of what triggers their reaction and either avoid them or where protective stuff such as a face mask. In spring and early summer, because of these molds, I need to wear a dust mask or I will have a very difficult time breathing, because the allergins overwhelm both my immune system and the antihistamines I take.
Those who are not, yet, allergic to these things should not be telling those of us who are that the molds produced by the normal digestion of organic matter will not trigger an allergic reaction because they will and do. There are some perfumes that will trigger a reaction of my Asthma, and my seasonal allergies start on January 1 and go through December 31 and scented candles and the room "deodorizers" many stores sell will trigger and astham attack.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 7:55AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Those who are not, yet, allergic to these things should not be telling those of us who are that the molds produced by the normal digestion of organic matter will not trigger an allergic reaction because they will and do.

kimmsr - no one is down-playing the problems of mold allergies both because they are serious and because you are far from alone in suffering with them. So feel free to get off the soap-box. ;)

And no one has said that they aren't present in the decomposition process. They are present in varying degrees in most aspects of outdoors, certainly in gardening, and increasingly indoors as well. Those with severe problems need to be aware of that and limit or protect their outdoors activities accordingly.

The question and the point made was that despite the name/label "leaf mold" is PRIMARILY a fungus action.

Dave

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 10:22AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

Molds are a type of fungus, but not all fungi are molds. Because I am allergic to mold my allergy doctor cautioned against digging because he said that levels of mold spores are so high in soil, especially when damp. It stands to reason that a pile of leaves sitting on that soil (whether recently placed mulch or a bigger, older pile left to form leaf mold) would also contain mold spores.

I didn't mean to start a controversy, simply to warn gaijingirl that messing with soil and compost and rotting vegetation might set off her allergies. (And the "leaf mold" is just a term for rotting leaves). It certainly does for me, but luckily for me it's just annoying, never been scary. Maybe gaijingirl, it might be something to discuss with your allergist at your next office visit. And wearing a good filter mask when playing in the dirt wouldn't hurt.

Karen

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 4:00PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

"Composted leaves or "leaf mold" is primarily inhabited by fungi, not molds nor bacteria"
Dave, this sentence especally following Karens post, kind of indicates a failure to understand what causes allergic reactions, kind of indicates a need of some explanation from someone that understood what Karen was saying.
All molds are fungal. Mildew is a mold and is the result of fungal activity, no matter which mildew it is, but there are many others, too, and they all can cause an allergic reaction in those sensitive to them. There are also many people that walk around with a "cold" that are having allergic reactions (signs and symptoms are quite similar) but because having an allergy is a bad thing (unacceptable socially, I guess) these people will not admit they do, and people use products in their homes that cause these reactions and do not know it.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 7:18AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

This whole thing has me a bit worried. A week ago I turned my pile and rebuilt it in a chicken wire cage. When I showered I hacked up a very black loogie that was clearly stuff I had breathed in, the next day my daughter woke up thowing up and I ended up sick to my stomach also. The whole family has it now, and the kids have thrown up a few days. I originally thought stomach virus 24hrs. The doc said it could last 10-14 days.

I'm concerned that my family sickness could possibly be from my compost piles, I'll miss the family (lol). My wife had test done to find out what her asthma triggers are, and my son needs to get one done, dw hasn't gotten results yet. I'm the only one turning the piles, or adding any thing at all.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 8:33AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

Well, that was pretty descriptive! But I know what you mean- messing with the compost makes me sneeze and produce similar material from my nose. Now when I finish playing with the compost, I use a neti pot which just cleans that crap from my nose and pharynx, and it goes a long way to relieve symptoms.

rj hythoday, it does sound like your family just caught a bug, probably passing it around among family members. Probably not caused by you and your composting, especially if you shower and change clothes between composting and mingling with the family. It's that time of year, after all, when everyone starts getting flu, colds, stomach bugs, all kinds of miserable bugs.

Karen

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 9:24AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

Yeah, I figure it's just regular bug, just kinda coincidental that it was the day after I had done a major turn/relocate. My daughter was several hours ahead of me, so I'm blaming preK.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 11:04AM
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gardenfanatic(MO zone5b)

Gaijingirl,

Tennessee is possibly more humid, and possibly warmer than where you lived before, which encourages more mold spores in the air, and it's native flora are probably different from where you lived before. So there are a number of things you could be allergic to in TN without it necessarily being related to composting.

Leaf mold is misnamed, because it's not really a mold. And as far as molds go, there are MANY different species of molds, and a person may not be allergic to all of them, just certain ones. That's like saying you're allergic to plants. That's pretty broad. That would include trees, shrubs, grass, flowering plants, foliage plants, etc. When in reality you would probably be allergic to certain ones. Same thing with molds and fungi. Most people would probably be allergic to certain species of molds and fungi, not all of them.

Deanna

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 2:15PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Yes, I know that molds are members of the fungus family and that some fungi are molds and some are not, etc., etc., etc., and it is not my point that either or neither can or cannot make you sick. That is for you and your doctor to decide, not us.

However the issue/question IMPLIED that leaf mold is mold and that it would follow that is was a greater health threat as a result. This is not the case. Deanna said it best - the name "leaf mold" is a misnomer. But we are stuck with it - and the primary action that creates what is called "leaf mold" is the action of fungi and as Karen said not all fungi are molds.

So call it rotted leaves if you prefer, and yes like most others things outside it may very well contain some mold spores but it is NOT mold just because it is called leaf mold (mould).

Dave

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 3:50PM
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luckygal(3b)

Sorry to hear some gardeners have this problem. Do you think it would help if your compost were not as dry when you turn it? I've never had a problem with turning my compost even tho I do have allergies to molds but like to keep it moist so there's never any dust. Might not be the answer but just a thot. Don't like to think gardening is hazardous to anyone's health. :)

    Bookmark   November 2, 2008 at 9:44PM
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luckygal(3b)

Guess I was kind of totally off the original topic of this thread. :( Sorry about that. Meant to add that as well as leaves I've found that earthworms love fresh grass clippings. Several grandaddy worms just jumped right out of the soil when I mulched a new bed with them. Scared me how fast they appeared. I don't usually use grass clippings as mulch but didn't have anything else at that moment.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2008 at 9:49PM
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joe.jr317

After reading several posts, I just skimmed the last ones so I might be repeating something here:

Allergies aren't corrected through increased immunity. Allergies ARE increased immunity. It's hyperimmunity and an overreaction to foreign bodies. Usually people take something to dampen the immune system or dull the histamines. Or they take steroids. This prevents inflammation which thus prevents the uncomfortable symptom. All these brought to us by business men that have medical degrees because it makes financial sense for them.

I would wear a mask to turn the compost if it is too bad. My allergies flare, too. When I was taking shots, they got worse when I missed a shot than they were before I ever started it. So, knowing that's simply not right, I quit. I started using a Neti pot and wonder why everyone doesn't own one. Unfortunately, the Neti pot does nothing for the itchy eyes that produce 1 gallon of mucous in a night.

As far as a family getting sick: Yep. It could happen. Just like a few football players have been known to die of infected scrapes because the soil they scraped themselves on contained a form of MRSA. Bacteria grows in lots of stuff and the body can certainly react to that bacteria. I would have my doubts that the compost made the family sick, but I am saying that it's remotely possible.

Now here's a crazy spin. I'm going to comment on the actual topic. Leaves attract worms because there is enough moisture kept just under them for the worms to breathe and of course there is the fact that it provides food. This food comes from the fungus that eats the leaves. The big earth worms (nightcrawlers) will even grab a leaf and pull it down into it's burrow for eating the fungus later. This is great because then you are getting even deeper feedings as castings are deposited in the tunnels. Ever take a cross section of a worm tunnel? Pretty neat. Just did it for a unit on earthworms a couple weeks back for a homeschooling project. Anyway, you are absolutely right that the leaves will help your garden, but be aware of some drawbacks. If you put them on in the Spring and then fertilize with nitrogen you will start bacterial activity that will heat the leaf layer. You mention "several inches" so that is the amount I'm talking about. I am guessing 4 inches. That's a lot. Anyway, that heat coupled with the heat of the changing season will deter worms from coming up that high to feed (probably why they take some food down with them). If you throw composting worms on there, that's different. They just won't survive the winter without your assistance in a garden setting. Leaves are great, but I am a much bigger fan of compost because it won't cause temperature fluctuations that worms hate in the spring/early summer. The worms will work the organic matter all day long in cooler temperatures and only at night in warm temperatures (hence the name nightcrawler). Either way is still tons better...

    Bookmark   November 3, 2008 at 9:42AM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

We have lots of worms in our leaf mulch, but also lots of slugs, generally small ones. I live in the PNW also known as slug heaven. Is this a problem elsewhere?

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 4:16PM
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joe.jr317

I just noticed that I somehow combined two threads into one response. The person that mentioned "several inches" of leaves was from the thread "whole leaves versus shredded". I had two tabs open, one for each thread, and mixed them together. So sorry if that last part didn't seem to make sense in regard to the original post.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 6:17PM
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newbie_in_nj(6b E/Central NJ)

I've become convinced that shredded leaves and grass clippings are the way to go around plants. Whenever I turn over leaves there are worms under them. That's what I'm using over the winter and will pull back in spring to let the ground warm up faster and/or more easily.

Using hardwood mulch did next to nothing for worm activity during my first gardening year and bonded too tightly with clay soil, although amended, so I'm trying the shredded leaves/grass route starting this winter.

I don't see a downside unless I leave them too deep or for too long come Spring.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 6:52PM
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