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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Free Soil Amendments

Save Money with these Two Free Soil Amendments -

- Leaf Mold and Compost

Every gardener knows the health of their soil is one of the most important factors in achieving a successful gardening season. 

Here are two FREE renewable resources that you have on hand that will save you money and build up your soil!

Leaf Mold

Leaf mold, also known as leaf compost, is quite simply decomposed leaves. It is one of the best soil amendments you can use to bring new life to your soil. It has a texture much like compost, dark brown to black, and has an earthy aroma. Leaf mold acts mainly as a soil conditioner by improving the soil structure. It WILL NOT add nutrition to your garden plants but it will enhance the condition of your soil creating a soil that is rich in calcium and magnesium and is less prone to compaction.

Benefits of Leaf Mold

  • It's easier to make than compost as there is no mixing of greens and browns.
  • It increases water retention. In areas where droughts are a constant threat, this can be really important. It really soaks up the rain. It has been known to hold up to 400% of its own weight in water.
  • It can be used as an effective weed barrier.
  • It provides a great habitat for soil life including earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
  • It will lighten up clay soil.
  • It will help prevent sandy soils from drying out too fast.

Why not just add the leaves to the compost pile?

While it's okay to add thin layers of leaves into your normal compost, too many Autumn leaves, even if they're shredded, will tend to mat together and prevent airflow in the pile and you'll notice the pile will start to smell. It's a better practice to decompose the leaves in a separate bed then incorporate the leaf mold directly into the soil.

Why not add the leaves straight into the garden beds?

This is something many gardeners choose to do, however, the leaves may take more time than one season to decompose into that wonderful crumbly texture.

Most leaves are slightly acidic as they fall, but as the leaves break down into leaf mold, the pH goes up into a more neutral range. This is the main reason gardeners prefer to let the leaves sit over the winter to decompose as opposed to placing them straight into the garden. Applying leaf mold will not correct a pH problem if you have one, but it will have a moderating effect.

How to Make Leaf Mold

Leaf piles can be made at any size, but it's recommended to pile the leaves 3 feet wide by 3 feet high, water the pile and let sit. You can use rounded chicken wire to hill them up to the 3 feet.

Some gardeners recommend filling a plastic bag with leaves and cutting holes in the bags for airflow. For a small batch of leaf mold, this may work well. If you have the space for a 3 by 3 area, I see no benefit to the plastic bag. 

Leaf Mold for your Veggie Gardens

For vegetable gardens. You can turn the leaf mold in at the end of the season which will create a soil that is less prone to compaction. Leaf mold is rich in calcium and magnesium which are essential for healthy vegetables. It is particularly good to incorporate in areas where you're growing carrots and members of the cabbage family. Remember that it does not provide the needed nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Apply up to 4”of leaf mold between rows and 2-3” around plants and till in at the end of the growing season.

Best Trees for Leaf Mold

Leaves of any trees can be used. The smaller the leaves, however, the faster they will break down. Smaller leaves like Birch, Alder and Japanese Maple only take six months to break down.

Using different types of leaves together will help balance and improve the quality of the finished product.

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we have no shortage of leaves, so we take advantage of this valuable free resource by using it both as a leaf mold amendment to our container soil and garden soil and adding it to our compost pile.

Ways to speed up the decomposition process

Leaves naturally decompose slowly to furnish plant nutrients gradually and improve the structure of the soil beneath. Because leaves are basically carbon, it takes longer to break down than, say, grass clippings which are nitrogen-rich.

This three-bin system is ideal for moving the leaves from one bin to another thereby aerating the leaves as they decompose.  Other ideas:

  • Run over the leaves with the mower before stacking. Small pieces always decompose more quickly.
  • Add nitrogen such as grass clippings, fresh manure or blood meal.
  • Turn your leaf pile over every few weeks.
  • Cover the pile with tarps to keep leaves consistently moist and warm.

Use Leaf Mold in containers for its ability to retain water.

For perennial plants in containers or in the ground, you can use leaf mold as a mulch top dressing for winter protection.  The best time to mulch with leaf mold is after the first few touches of frost.  First, remove any dead vegetation and apply 2" of leaf mold.  You easily can turn it into the garden or container next spring!

Second Free Soil Additive

Compost, The Gardener's Black Gold

Composting, in a nutshell, is turning your waste into nutrient-rich soil for use in your garden.

You can read about the subject of composting in such depth as to make your head swim and find it to be quite overwhelming. But whether you start with a compost bin or a designated 3 foot by 3-foot area, knowing a few basic principles will help you achieve that rich, earthy-smelling soil amendment that we all want.

Mixing Those Greens and Browns

A 50/50 mix of the greens and browns through the pile will create a reaction that breaks the organic matter down into usable compost.

Here are some examples of what you CAN add.

Green list: (Nitrogen)

Not always green in color, but the “greens” consist of mostly wet or recently-growing materials that will supply most of the nutrients that make your compost good for your garden.

  • Hedges and grass clippings
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Lettuce and other leafy vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Weeds that have not gone to seed
  • Vegetable shavings
  • Fruit peals (in small amounts)
  • Corn stalks
  • Pulp from juicing
  • Seaweed
  • Tea Bags

Brown list: (Carbon)

Brown materials add bulk to the mix and allow air to get into the compost heap.

  • Dry leaves
  • Paper products; shredded cardboard and newspaper (no color)
  • Nut and nutshells
  • Pine cones and pine needles
  • Wood, bark, shavings, sawdust, wood ashes
  • Used potting soil (with no disease)

Just as important is the DO NOT COMPOST list:

  • Weeds that have gone to seed
  • Colored paper
  • Meat, bones, and fish (They will attract animals and cause a foul odor.)
  • Pet feces
  • Anything containing a pesticide
  • Dairy products
  • Breads
  • Oils and greases
  • Onions and garlic
  • Cheese
  • Tissues or paper towels
  • Leftovers that aren't vegan

A good mixture of wet greens and dry browns through the pile is a great recipe for success.  The decomposition of materials in a compost pile is accomplished by microorganisms, especially bacteria and molds. These organisms need water and air for the greatest microbial activity.


Water your pile thoroughly to the consistency of a damp sponge whenever it dries out.


Aeration of the pile will keep active the microbial activity you're developing. You can poke holes throughout the pile for airflow, or for faster results, turn the pile over every one to two weeks, whatever suits your schedule.

Tips for speeding up the process

  • Cut food scraps up into smaller pieces.
  • Crumble your egg shells or any ingredient that takes longer to decompose.
  • Although adding twigs is okay, not adding them will speed up the process.
  • Turning the pile every week to two weeks.

How to tell when the compost is ready to use

  • The material will have broken down into small bits that are unrecognizable of what they once were.
  • It will look black or dark brown and crumbly.
  • It will have an earthy smell.

It's worth noting that at this stage the material is still decomposing which is what you want. Once you add this to your garden, microbes and other soil life will continue the decomposition. While this is happening, the soil structure is improving and nutrients are being slowly released. This is important as the larger molecules at this stage contain a lot of nitrogen, phosphorus and other valuable minerals.

How should it smell?

During the composting process, the matter is decaying and it is normal to smell things like grass or leaves as they decay. In a well-managed compost pile, there should never be a foul odor.

If there is a foul smell, the likely culprit is usually not sticking to the “Not to Compost” rule, especially adding pet waste, dairy products or fats and greases.

Remedies for the foul odor

  • Add more brown material to the pile.
  • Bury food deeper into the pile and top with some browns.
  • Turn the pile more frequently.

Leaf mold and compost are not only a free renewable resource but are a great way to add nutrients and organic material to your garden while keeping those ingredients out of the landfill.  So start making them today, and start saving that money to buy more plants!!



Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price!

Misconceptions about Hostas

Hostas continue to be one of the most popular perennial plants for a number of reasons, including the variety of sizes, shapes, and colors that they come in. In addition, their ability to grow in less than perfect gardening conditions is unmatched. 


Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, over the years I have often heard some common misconceptions about hostas that I want to clear up in this article.

Hostas can survive in complete, deep shade.

The most common misconception about hostas is that they will survive in deep shade. Although hostas are commonly known as “shade” plants, they are a plant and do need some sunlight to survive. The amount of sunlight they need depends on the cultivar of hosta you have.

Most hostas will grow and be healthy in part shade and part sun, weighing more on the shady side. More specifically the best siting for most hostas is morning sun and afternoon shade. You may not get the leaf coloring you want, but the hostas will usually be happy and healthy.

For a detailed article on hosta leaf coloring, click here.


Hostas cannot be planted in a sunny area.

While it is true that there are no “sun-proof” hostas, there are hosta varieties that are able to tolerate more sun than their shade-loving cousins. These hostas are labeled as “sun tolerant and they can take up to five or six hours of direct sun a day. 

But in a full day of direct sun, no hosta will survive for long without the leaves burning severely or the plant simply dying.

For a detailed article on sun tolerant hostas and some great hosta choices, click here.



Blue hosta leaves will remain blue all season long.

This is only true if a blue leafed hosta is well sited in dappled morning sun and afternoon shade. That's your best shot for keeping that blue color as long as possible.

Blue hostas develop a glaucous waxy layer that develops as they emerge which helps to protect the leaves from harmful weather, and that blue wax causes the light to reflect in such a way that gives the hosta leaves that bluish color. 

Underneath, the leaves are actually green. Heavy rain can cause the waxy layer to wash off exposing the green leaf underneath. Too much sun can quickly cause the blue leaves to turn green.

There are other factors, in addition to the siting, that determine the blueness of a blue hosta. These include the maturity of the hosta, the leaf shape, and the cultivar. For a more detailed article on blue hostas, click here.

Spring is the only time to divide a hosta.

Actually, hostas can be divided in most areas in the spring, summer and fall, basically anytime the soil is workable. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to each season, though, and here is a short explanation.


While hostas can be divided any time the soil is workable, it is best to divide fast-growing hostas in the Spring as soon as the eyes are popping up but before the leaves unfurl. This is usually a two-week window. 

Fast-growing hostas recover quickly from the division. It is advisable to only divide non-fast-growing hostas into thirds or quarters if doing this in the Spring.


Hostas can be divided in the summer months, but much more care needs to be taken to be sure you don't stress the plant and divisions. Water well, shade the replanted divisions for at least a few days to a week and keep a closer eye on them until they're established. 

 You can also cut back the hosta leaves to a few inches from the ground level to help the hosta recover more quickly. Their top growth will quickly return.


Fall is a great time for division. The hosta's need for water is not as great now. In northern climates, that is September, in the southern, October.

Hostas usually put on a growth spurt in August and early September, so dividing them at least 30 days before the first expected frost date takes advantage of this growth spurt as well as giving them time to settle into their new home before their winter sleep.


There are hostas that slugs won't eat.

Although slugs LOVE hostas as much as we do, there are hostas that have been bred to be more resistant to slugs. The thicker the hosta leaves, the less appeal they have to slugs and snails. There are many slug resistant hostas to choose from.

For a list of some great slug resistant hostas, click here.


If you're already a Hostaholic, you are in great company. There are many of us! If you haven't tried incorporating hostas into your garden, give them a try. They are such a beautiful and easy-to-care-for plant, that's the only plant that we grow and sell.

Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website at Sunset HostaFarm.com
Great hostas at an affordable price.

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