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Leaf mould

It's that time of the year when we all wonder in amazement as the leaves on the trees start to change colour, and eventually fall to the ground. A few years back I wrote about why leaves change colour - Autumn tints. (

The thing is though, what can we do with all those leaves? It seems such a shame to let them go to waste.......

Now there was a time when I used to do a monthly radio show. And in the back of my mind I think I spoke about making leaf mould. But I can't find that recording now - or my script - so I'm starting this blog from scratch.

First things first, what is leaf mould and what do we do with it?

Well leaf mould is an invaluable soil conditioner. It's formed from decaying leaves. It is added to soil to improve its fertility, structure and water-holding capacity.

It takes time to make - leave it until it's well rotted - sometimes it'll need to be left for up to 2 years - and it can be used as a seed compost, or mixed equally with sharp sand, garden compost and decent soil and used as a potting compost.

Or if like me you're an impatient sort then you can use it before it reaches it's second birthday and use it as a mulch, soil improver or autumn top-dressing for your lawn!

What leaves can I use?

In short? Almost any. Some though are better than others - in so much as they'll break down quicker. And some might need to be treated slightly differently. And some might produce a leaf mould that is better used for certain types of plant.

But all leaves and conifer needles will eventually break down and give you some leaf mould. Some leaves - such as those from oak, beech or hornbeam - break down with little assistance and produce excellent leaf mould.

However thicker leaves - those from maple, sycamore, walnut, or chestnut - take longer to breakdown. The process can though be sped up by shredding them before you add them to your pile. The other thing that you can do is simply add them to your compost heap - once you've shredded them.

Evergreens - such as holly, laurel and conifer hedge clippings - are better shredded and added to the compost heap, where they will break down faster than if you'd added them to your leaf mould pile. Conifer needles will eventually break down, but may take even longer to break down - often 2 to 3 years.

Pine needles are worth gathering if you want to mulch ericaceous plants, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, pieris and blueberries. Place them in a separate pile and sit back and wait.

How do I make it?

You can collect leaves from your own garden or public places. I leave leaves (pun intended!) from the side of main roads as they may be affected by pollution.

Leaves are obviously easier to collect when the weather is dry and still. I use a blower and large leaf rake to collect them. If it is windy then I rake the leaves in the direction that the wind is blowing and then gather them up with my leaf grabber - I use that to save me from having to bend over! You can though just as easily use leaf boards - two large pieces of wood or plastic. This enables you to pick up larger volumes more effectively than just using your hands. But watch your back!

And this is another way of collecting leaves - particularly from your lawn. Use your mower!

This doesn't just shred your leaves that speeds up how quickly they break down and rot, but it also adds grass clippings and increases the nutrient value of the leaf mould.

What next?

Well if you used leaves that needed shredding - those thicker leaves like maple, sycamore, walnut, or chestnut - then you should have something that looks a bit like this.

If you were lucky and were able to collect leaves that break down with little assistance - those from oak, beech or hornbeam - then you'll have a nice pile of leaves that now need to be kept safe. And if you have pine needles and want to have an ericaceous-rich mould then the same is true.

And here we've got two choices.

The first is to simply gather up all the leaves into a bin liner or sack, moisten them if they are dry, and then poke holes in the bag or sack with a knife or garden fork. Tie the top loosely and stack the bags out of sight for up to two years - you'll want to do that as they aren't the most pleasant of things to look at!

I've done that at my allotment and apart from the fact that the resident rodents are attracted to them it works really well. For now that's what I'll be doing with the leaves I've collected this year.

The other thing you can do - and it's something that I'm planning when I get rid of my old, cracked water tank at the allotment - is make a leaf mould heap. To do that you'll need several stakes or bamboo canes and a roll of chicken wire.

Knock the stakes or canes into the ground and then use the chicken wire to make a frame that you can then pile the leaves into. If you can use a sheltered part of your garden so that the leaves are not blown away. Make your heap as large as you can as that will speed up the process, and moisten it if it becomes dry.

I'll add some photos when I've got myself better organised and have sorted out mine - it'll be sacks for now, and then a nice big leaf mould heap over the next few months!

And then after 2 years or so you'll have some lovely, crumbly leaf mould that you can use in your garden. For free.


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