How to make leaf mould

By Martyn Cox

Falling autumn leaves can become a nuisance, especially if you're constantly raking them off the lawn, dredging the pond or picking up handfuls to prevent them choking up flower beds and borders. But rather than pulling your hair out in irritation and consigning them to your wheelie bin, turn leaves into leaf mould - a wonderful compost that can be used as mulch or dug into the ground as a soil conditioner. Martyn Cox explains how to go about it

Autumn leavesFallen autumn leaves from deciduous trees can make an excellent compost
Which leaves?

Most leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs can be composted, but some will rot down at a faster rate than others. Hornbeam, oak and beech will compost swiftly, while leaves from sycamore and horse chestnut will take a little longer. Leaves from conifers and evergreen trees can take up to three years to compost down, so are best shredded and then added to a traditional compost heap.

Collecting in bin liners

The easiest way to make leaf mould is to collect leaves in black plastic bin liners. To do this, puncture several holes in the base and sides of the bag, which will help drainage and allow air to flow through the bag, preventing leaves from turning slimy.

Rake up leaves regularly and stash them in the bag. When almost full, ensure the leaves are damp by sprinkling with water, shake and then tie up the bag. Lots of plastic bags will look ugly lying around the garden so store out of the way - a shady spot behind a shed or down an unused passage would be ideal. To ensure you have a plentiful supply of leaf mould, continue to fill bags until leaves stop falling.

Make a leaf bin

If you have a large garden with lots of trees, it may be worthwhile creating a dedicated leaf bin. This is really easy. All you need is four stout tree stakes and a roll of galvanised chicken wire. Make a square frame by hammering the four stakes into the ground - the dimensions depend on the amount of leaves that normally fall in your garden and the available space, but a metre square bin would allow you to collect plenty of leaves. Wind the chicken wire around the frame and secure to the posts with galvanised U-shaped staples. Snip off excess wire. Put on some gloves and fold in sharp edges to prevent cutting yourself when adding leaves to the bin.

How to use leaf mould

Open bags next autumn and you'll find that leaves have changed into a crumbly material that is ideal to be used as mulch, helping to lock in soil moisture and prevent weeds from germinating. At this stage the compost is still recognisable as leaves, but if you leave it another year, it will have rotted down further to a dark brown compost, which can be dug into the ground as a soil conditioner. This material contains high levels of humus, which help soil to retain moisture and enable it to hold onto nutrients.

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  • Doreen Reed

    Posted: Wednesday 12 March 2014

    I have some black plastic sacks containing leaves that must be 10 years old, is it safe to open up and use leaf mould? What should I do with it?

  • Sarah

    Posted: Wednesday 12 December 2012

    I have just made leaf mould from a large ash tree over my allotment - should I throw it away given latest news or carry on?

  • John

    Posted: Tuesday 09 October 2012

    I have got an old coal bunker and filled it with leaves last year it has rotted right down and I now riddle it to a fine compost I just wonder if I could use it next year for potting up plants.

  • cameron cunningham

    Posted: Sunday 04 March 2012

    I have been reading articles about the benefits in the garden of leaf mould.Rather than gather the leaves this year and then have to wait a year for thenice dark crumbly soil,would it be worthwhile considering scraping off the top layer of earth thats under the trees

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