Fallen leaves

There might be a new chill in the air, but autumn is a beautiful time of year, when the leaves change color on the trees and the sun shines through a million little stained-glass windows. But once the leaves fall to the floor then it’s a different story. If they fall into ponds they can foul the water, on the lawn they can cause bleached patches and they make paths slippery in the winter. Gardeners everywhere spend the autumn raking up leaves to prevent these problems, but did you know that you can turn them into free soil improver for your garden, rather then sending them off with the rubbish?

Leaf mould is known to horticulturalists as a low fertility soil improver, meaning that it’s great for improving soil structure, helping to improve both water retention and drainage and promoting a healthy environment that helps plants to thrive. Leaf mould makes an excellent mulch, suppressing weed growth and evaporation whilst the earthworms work hard to incorporate it into the soil for you. You can also use it as part of a home-made potting mix, perfect for raising seedlings – try equal parts of leaf mould, loam and garden compost for a good multi-purpose potting compost.

And if you have bare soil in your beds over winter, considering piling your leaves onto the soil surface to protect the soil from heavy winter rains. You’ll have a better soil structure in spring (you can rake the leaves off if you need a seed bed) and fewer weed problems too.

Making leaf mould is easy. All you have to do is to collect wet leaves (from deciduous trees) into one place and leave them to rot down. You can make a leaf mold bin with 4 stakes and some wire mesh, or you can just put leaves into a plastic bag. The container doesn’t matter, as long as it either lets in rain or you use wet leaves. You’ll also need a few air holes – if you’re using plastic bags then trying stabbing them with a garden fork a couple of times.

All you need then is patience. Some leaves take longer to break down than others, but after a year you’ll have partially rotted leaves that make good mulch material. If you want properly composted leaves you’ll have to wait at least another year – but once you start making leaf mold each year you’ll soon have an annual supply.