A couple of weeks ago rain lashed down and winds howled across the fields for days on end bringing autumn leaves crashing to the ground. Happily the awful weather has been replaced by frosty mornings and sunny days, but the aftermath has left a carpet of leaves strewn across the garden. It happens every year, so at some point they need gathering up, but when you live in the countryside surrounded by trees, the task feels mammoth. There is an upside though; you can make huge quantities of leaf mould!
Leaf mould is an amazing, invaluable, organic soil conditioner and better still it’s practically free! All it costs you are a few bin liners and a bit of hard work; but with Christmas and mince pies on the horizon I don’t think that’s a bad thing!
Here are my top 10 tips for making leaf mould ;
1. Leaves from oak, hornbeam, beech, ash, birch, cherry, elm, lime, poplar and willow are low in fibrous lignin and high in nitrogen and calcium. These leaves will produce leaf mould within a year and do not need to be shredded first.
2. Large, tough leaves are generally high in lignin and low in nitrogen and calcium and will take 18-24 months to break down. These leaves need a little more help and should be shredded or gathered using a mower to help break them down. This includes leaves from sycamore, walnut, horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, magnolia, maple and hawthorn.
3. Leaves from evergreens such as holly, laurel, bay, photinia and rhododendron are slow to decompose, these are better added to your compost heap rather than trying to make leaf mould from them.
4. Likewise, leaves from conifers and pines are slow to decompose. They can either be added to your compost heap or if you gather them separately and leave them uncovered, after a year or so you will be able to use them as mulch for ericaceous plants. You should turn the leaves over every 6-8 weeks and moisten them during dry weather.
5. It’s totally fine to use your lawn mower to collect any leaves. It will shred them and in doing so will increase the speed in which the leaves break down. Any grass clippings gathered at the same time will help to increase the nutrient value of the leaf mould. However, if your ‘lawn’ is like mine and is more of a ‘weed lawn’ be careful as you don’t want to be adding weed seeds to the lovely soil conditioner you’re making and spreading them further around your garden!
6. Store the gathered leaves in bin liners with holes pierced in their sides. The leaves should be moistened if dry, the bags then tied loosely and stored in a shady spot for 1-2 years.
7. Alternatively, if you have the space, you can make a leaf bin using timber and metal mesh. The leaves should be kept moist to aid decomposition and covering the bin with tarpoulin or a bâche will also help keep the moisture in.
8. Leaf mould which is well-rotted, usually more than 2 years old, can be used as seed sowing compost (something I certainly go through a lot of in springtime!)
9. Leaf mould that is less than 2 years old can be used as mulch or soil conditioner; worms love it! Simply spread a layer of leaf mould on your borders or vegetable patch in early spring or late autumn and before you know it worms will have dragged it down into the soil for you!
10. If you don’t have enough leaves in your garden to make leaf mould, gather them from local parks. You may look a little crazy, but who cares when you’re getting free soil conditioner?! Alternatively ask friends and family to gather their leaves for you to add to your pile.
It’s reported that one mature oak tree grows and sheds over 200,000 leaves in just one year! Free and organic, I think it’s a shame not to make use of their produce and in doing so make your garden healthier and worms happy!
If you collect your leaves every year to make leaf mould or to perhaps make use of them in some other way, I’d love to know so please do leave your comments in the box below.