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I've been looking up and down this board for information about leaf litter and have been getting some really mixed results. Experts, what do you recommend using for your vivarium, store-purchased, or collected leaves in areas without pesticides? Do you boil your leaves or gamble with the beneficial and detrimental hitchhikers? I'm in deciduous NE US forests 7a, with maple and oak dominant forests, do these work or should I be looking for magnolia species? (There are some really huge leaves from the Umbrella magnolia which may be fun.)
 

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I suspect maple leaves are gonna turn to goo (or humus) really fast. Deciduous oak might last longer.

I keep "subtropical" arboreal snakes so am free of many of the needs & concerns of froggers. And am honeslty ignorant of many anuran husbandry needs & practices. Regardless, I have found a leaf-litter substrate to work well for my charges. I collect my own, now on trips to CA and AZ. I always select wildland stands or stringers of evergreen oaks to collect leaves under. Formerly, I collected my own in the SE USA, also from beneath evergreen oaks. These leaves have a structure and composition that help them last a while in a humid viv that is seasonally warm. (I hate magnolia leaves - they're too big for my needs, you don't put that many in a viv. I just toss leaves with snake shit on them. After a few months, there's no magnolia leaves left! So I don't know how they hold up.)

My "treatment" of field-collected leaves consists of extended neglect in a cool dry place. I collect them - just the driest top layer, nothing starting to decompose - into paper grocery bags, then put them (after sorting out anything I don't want, like deer or turkey shit) into clear plastic totes. The totes overwinter in my cold-ass garage or even colder garden shed.

An honest question - where do you think store-bought leaves come from? Another - what standard of care do you think is applied across or throughout the supply chain? And finally - what do you think would be a reasonable or expected price for leaves that had such a standard of care applied to them?

My point is, I suspect you can apply at least as good a standard of care.

Good luck!
 

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I am by no means an expert but I can share with you what I've done in the past and personal opinions. First, regarding store bought leaf litter, in my area all of the dedicated reptile stores (which excludes the big box animal stores) carry leaf little which is usually a standard freezer bag of magnolia leaves and or white oak leaves and they are sold for $10-$15 dollars and because I'm 98% certain that they are just collected from around the area and bagged, the price is just a bit too much. My opinion on magnolia leaves, unless it's a true dwarf variety, are too large for my taste. They will last a longer time than many other varieties of leaves but some live oak trees have small leaves and will last just as long.

As for collecting in the wild, I've done it many times, just made sure it was a park where sprays are used almost all the time. I take home what I've got and put them into a colander, give them a good rinse, then bake them in the over at about 200°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Probably not totally necessary, but a little caution can go a long way from keeping pests out. Plus most biology in a 7a zone is probably not going to servive in a tropical setting anyway. I'd also stay away from foliage that is aromatic as that is usually an indicator of oils in the leaves that are probably not good for sensitive amphibians. Examples would be like eucalyptus, and needle leaf trees, rosemary, lavender, etc...

The other thing that I do to get leaves is I have a couple planted bushes in my yard, pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana zone USDA 8-11), that give excellent leaf litter throughout the year thats perfect sized for smaller terrariums and is able to last decomposition quite the while along with some sweet edible flowers and unique tasty fruit that it produces. This means I can collect all the leaves I want and know exactly what's on the leaves or the the lack of, ie. pesticides or fertilizers.
 

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I collect northern oak leaves in the fall that are dry but still on the branch and use them after baking (200F for a while, 20 min maybe). They decompose a lot more quickly than the live oak and southern magnolia leaves that I buy, so I use them mostly for feeding isopods. Live oak is nice for general use, and magnolia are great for hiding spots; the two mixed make for a much more useful (to the frogs) layer, IMO.

Yes, buying bagged leaves is expensive, but I wouldn't gather a bag of leaves and put a label on it and put it in a box and take your CC info and ship it out for any less (to say nothing of opening a shop and paying employees and insurance and trying to finance my kids' college by doing so), so I don't feel like I'm overpaying for them.
 

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I use maple and birch just as a quick snack for the cleanup crew, and different types of oak and mulberry as my main leaf littler. I boil them for a while and then bake them just enough to dry them out. They last a few months, but have to be replenished after that. I like to replenish my leaf litter, so I’m fine with doing it frequently, but if you don’t want to, I would go with something else. Magnolia leaves work great, they’re just really big. I break them into smaller pieces and they do well.

Leaves from chemical free houseplants also do well. I use fronds from a big potted palm we have, and those last a looong time. What I really look forward to is one of my orchids or Hoyas shedding a leaf. They’re the perfect size and last the longest of anything I’ve tried - over a year!
 

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For Leaves:

Microwave– Place damp leaves in microwave for 5 mins.

Boiling– Boil rinsed leaves in clean water for 5-10 mins.

Baking– Bake rinsed leaves @ 200°F for 30-45 mins.

Bake– Give wood a good scrub and bake at 200°F for several hours until the center temperature reaches 140°F.
 

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I use 2 different verified bio safety methods in succession to eliminate carbonizing or 'cooking' ( which doesnt necessarily present as obviously as one would expect but degrades normally encountered qualities)

Hitting with 2 methods preserves integrity and expands kill power. Normal time impacts of break down dont need human help. We just need to kill whats on it. We dont need to change its molecular character.

I steam till i hit 140 to180 case by case, following food handling hygiene and medical data durations.

Then I dry on a grate under full spectrum radiant heat. I turn the leaves thru to dry evenly and to get them done for use.

So actually, 3 methods of disinfection combine to achieve antisepsis.
 

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I've been looking up and down this board for information about leaf litter and have been getting some really mixed results. Experts, what do you recommend using for your vivarium, store-purchased, or collected leaves in areas without pesticides? Do you boil your leaves or gamble with the beneficial and detrimental hitchhikers? I'm in deciduous NE US forests 7a, with maple and oak dominant forests, do these work or should I be looking for magnolia species? (There are some really huge leaves from the Umbrella magnolia which may be fun.)
Look up leaf litter lignin content or litterbag for your area to find some articles on decomposition rates. Usually the high lignin concentrations indicate a slower decomp rate.
 
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