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Leaves for leafmould

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raking leavesLeaves – a perfect harvest!
Trees provide a valuable harvest at this time of year: their dead leaves rot down to make leafmould which we can use in lots of ways around the garden. This leafmould is quite low in nutrients but acts as an ideal soil conditioner and will help conserve moisture in the soil. We can dig leafmould into the ground, use it as a mulch or as an alternative to peat in a home made potting mix. We can simply add it to the compost heap or use fresh leaves as a winter mulch or as protection for the crowns of tender perennial plants. By using leaves in this way we don't even have to gather them up!
And we are providing shelter for many of the creatures with whom we share our garden: not just hedgehogs and toads but beetles, spiders and millions of microscopic creatures.

Which leaves to use?
Almost any leaf will rot down to make leafmould, some more quickly than others. Ash and Elder are very quick, Beech and Oak very slow.
Avoid evergreens like Laurel and Holly, they are very tough and slow to rot and also needles from conifers like Norway spruce that have resins that slow down decomposition.

Making leafmould
Use a very large bag to collect the leaves, they’re not too heavy after all. They often pile up at the edges of paths or up mowing up leavesagainst a barrier – easy for collecting. Another good place is on the lawn. Just run the lawn mower over them. This way, they’ll be chopped up so will rot down more quickly.

After making sure they are really wet, simply put the leaves in a black plastic bag, spike it in several places, tie it up and leave it for between 1 and 2 years, depending on what kind of leaves they are.

leaf bay fullFor a larger quantity, make a leafmould bay from 4 stobs [posts] and chicken wire. See our leaflet Grass and Leaves for more information about this.
Another option is to use old pallets to form a box. Either way, the leaves will sink down quite quickly so you can keep adding more to the heap. Leave the heap open to the winter rains and within one or two seasons you’ll have ideal leafmould.
An empty builders' dumpy bag makes an instant leafmould container: put it  in a corner so that it does not splay in all directions, or secure each handle to a post.
Because these containers are all open at the top, rain will keep the leaves wet.

When you come to use the leafmould
You will find the leaves on the top may not all have rotted since they will probably be dry. Scrape them off to reveal excellent leafmould underneath.

Using leafmould
As a soil conditioner
Dig leafmould into the soil. It will add bulk to thin, silty soils and help to conserve moisture. It will help break up clay soil, making it easier to manage.
leafmould 1 yr old
As a mulch

Spread leafmould on the soil to a depth of 10cm if you want to prevent annual weeds from germinating. You can reduce the depth of leafmould to 5cm if you first lay a few sheets of newspaper on the soil and cover these with leafmould.

Use leafmould to protect the crowns of tender perennials from hard frost. A 10cm depth of leafmould, without paper, is needed to achieve this.

Use a thick layer of fresh leaves to protect the soil over winter. They will be absorbed into the soil over the winter months.

As a potting mix
See Compost mixes for details on how to use leafmould in home made potting mixes.

In containers
You may grow container plants in a mix that includes leafmould. You can conserve moisture in the pot by topping off with a thick layer of leafmould.

Leaves are a resource too precious to throw away!

More on leaves
Leaves as a mulch
Collecting leaves

Composting problem?
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