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What to do with all those leaves?

Published: 7th November, 2018

Leaf mouldNothing should go to waste in the garden and fallen leaves are no exception. At this time of year there are fallen leaves everywhere. Even those of us with very few trees find a substantial quantity in our gardens, where they get blown into every nook and cranny.

This autumn glut can be a gardener’s best friend. One of the best and least expensive ways to amend your soil, and add nutrients, is to use leaf mould. It’s an invaluable source of organic matter.

Leaf mould is simply fallen leaves that have decomposed into a dark crumbly compost. It has several uses in the garden:

  • Dug into the soil to improve its structure.
    • Retaining moisture in lighter soils
    • Improving drainage in heavier soils.
  • Spread on the soils surface as mulch it helps retain water, helps to avoid evaporation just like wood bark does, but it also promotes the development of healthy fungal growth very quickly.
  • Very fine leaf mould can be used as the basis for your very own potting soil mix.

It’s exceptionally easy to make so don’t waste nature’s gift – get going making your very own leaf mould.

Leaves from almost any deciduous tree or shrub can be used to make leaf mould. However, tough evergreen leaves are better added to the general compost heap where the higher temperatures will help them to break down faster.

Using a rake or leaf blower gather leaves into piles. Try to rip them up or scrunch them into small pieces. The smaller the better as they will decompose so much quicker. Alternatively, you could mow them up and let the blades of the lawnmower chop them up for you. It will significantly decrease the volume as well as speeding up the decomposition process.
Once you have your leaf pile, you have to store it somewhere. The best storage method is to make a leaf mould cage by securing chicken wire or mesh secured to four corner posts hammered into the ground. The mesh will stop the leaves blowing away while allowing plenty of air to circulate through the pile. Once you have added your leaves, add water. Turn your leaf pile every couple of weeks. This will result in a faster leaf compost and keep it moist. You might want to cover it up with a tarp or something to help it retain moister and break down. If you do cover it, moisten it periodically if it becomes dry.

An even simpler solution is to stuff the leaves into sturdy bin bags. Pack them down and after adding water, tie the top of the bag. To allow air into the bag, puncture it repeatedly with a garden fork or knife. Store the bags in a shady corner out of sight.

It will take 2-3 years for leaf mould to be fully broken down to a perfect compost. When it is ready just scatter on the soil surface, lightly fork it in and let the earthworms do the rest.
Younger leaf mould of just 1 year old may not be fully broken down but it can still be put to good use as a mulch helping to retain moisture and slowly break down further to improve the quality of your soil. Simply lay it 3 -5cm think around the base of established plants.
Nothing could be easier than making leaf mould: All you really need is leaves.

If you need some tools to help you collect them, Henry Street Garden Centre has a vast range of rakes and gathering equipment.

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