How to Turn Fallen Leaves into Gardener's Gold

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Fallen leaves on a lawn under a sycamore tree

At this time of year there are fallen leaves everywhere you look: on the lawn, on beds and piled up into pretty much any corner of the garden! Don’t bin them – collect them all, and you’ve got a valuable supply of organic matter that can be put to excellent use in your garden. Read on or watch our video to discover how to use fallen leaves to make perfect leafmould…

What is Leafmould?

Leafmould is simply what results when a pile of leaves has decomposed into dark, crumbly compost. This decayed matter is truly gardener’s gold and can be put to several uses in the garden: dig it into the soil to improve its structure, spread it on the soil surface as mulch, or use it as a basis for your own potting soil mix.

Leaves from almost any deciduous tree or shrub (that’s one that sheds its leaves in winter) can be used for making leafmould. Thicker leaves such as those from horse chestnut trees can take a little longer to rot down. There are just a few exceptions, with leaves from some trees best avoided because they release chemicals that inhibit plant growth. These include walnut, eucalyptus, camphor laurel and cherry laurel.

Tough evergreen leaves are best added to the compost heap where the higher temperatures will help them to rot down faster.

Leaves raked into a pile

Leaf Collecting Methods

Collect leaves from anywhere they pile up in the garden – lawns, beds, and paths, plus driveways and guttering. Leaves from heavily trafficked roads should not be used as they may contain pollutants that could affect plant growth.

Use a spring-tine rake or a leaf blower to collect your leaves into piles, then scoop them up by hand or using improvised grabbers.

Alternatively, use a lawn mower fitted with a collection bag to scoop up the leaves. Set the mower to its highest height and the blade will chop up the leaves as it collects them. The smaller pieces of leaf will rot down into leafmould more quickly than whole leaves. You’ll need to empty the bag frequently as it will become full quickly, and it can be very heavy if the leaves are damp.

Mowing leaves

How to Make Leafmould

Leafmould couldn’t be easier to make. The best way is to create a leafmould cage by securing chicken wire or mesh to four corner posts hammered firmly into the ground. Use U-shaped nails or fence staples to hold the mesh into position. Fill the cage with your collected leaves. The mesh will stop the leaves from blowing away while allowing plenty of air to reach them. It will normally take about two years for leaves to rot down into leafmould.

An even simpler solution is to stuff leaves into sturdy plastic bags. Push the leaves right down into the bag then tie it shut at the top. To allow air into the bag puncture it repeatedly with a garden fork to create lots of holes. Store the bags in an out-of-the-way corner where they will remain undisturbed for a couple of years.

How to Use Leafmould

1. As a soil improver

After two to three years your leafmould will have a wonderfully crumbly consistency. It’s great for enhancing your soil, feeding the soil microbes that encourage healthy root growth, improving drainage in heavier soils and moisture retention in lighter soils. Simply lay a thick layer on top of the soil surface then lightly fork it in, allowing the worms to do the rest of the digging in for you!

Leaves rotting down into leafmould

2. As a mulch

Younger leafmould, between one and two years old, won’t be fully broken down yet but can still be put to use as a surface mulch where it will suppress weeds and work to slowly improve your soil. Lay it 3-5cm (1-2in) thick around fruit trees and bushes or any well-established perennial plants.

3. In a potting soil mix

The finest leafmould can form the basis of garden-made potting soil. Sieve it to remove any lumps and debris then mix with weed-free garden soil or sieved compost. Use it for growing in containers or potting-on young plants.

Nothing should go to waste in the garden, and fallen leaves are no exception! We’d love to hear how you use this autumnal glut in your own garden – why not drop us a comment below?

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Comments

 
"My husband uses a mulching mower with a bagging attachment to collect leaves and grass (more leaves than grass) and stores it in plastic bags. After our raised bed vegetable garden finishes the season I put a two or three inch layer on each bed and cover it with landscape cloth to keep the Minnesota wildlife and neighborhood cats out. In spring I remove the cloth and the leaves to let the soil warm up, then put some leaves back as mulch. Each year the soil gets better!"
Marty on Friday 3 November 2017
"What a brilliant system you have there Marty - thanks for sharing!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 3 November 2017

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