Picking or raking up constant falling autumn leaves is a thankless and seemingly never ending chore. Turn this job from being a nuisance into something that will benefit your garden next year by making some leaf mould. After one year leaf mould can be used as a mulch but by leaving it for a further year, this lovely compost can be used as an invaluable soil conditioner.
The leaves from most shrubs and deciduous trees can be composted. The best leaves to use are from beech, oak and hornbeam which rot down and become compost fairly quickly, with horse chestnut and sycamore leaves taking a little longer.
It can take up to three years for the leaves of evergreen and conifer trees to compost down and therefore they are best shredded and added to your compost heap if you have one (at the end of this article you will find a further article about making your own compost heap).
Making Leaf Mould
Making leaf mould couldn’t be easier, with black plastic bin liners or sacks being ideal for the job. To allow air to flow and assist with drainage, which will prevent the leaves from going slimy, make several holes to the sides and base of the liners and then you will be ready to start collecting leaves.
You can collect leaves from the lawn using a rotary mower if you have one. This will shred the leaves and hasten the rotting process and with the added bonus of grass clippings, increase the level of nutrients to the leaf mould.
Once the bin liner is almost full, sprinkle the leaves with water to make sure the leaves are damp and then give the bag a good shake, finally, secure the bag with a tie.
To ensure a plentiful supply of leaf mould continue gathering leaves until all they are gone.
If the leaf mould proves a bit slow to break down, to help speed up the process regularly give the bag a good firm shake to aerate the leaves. Keep the leaves moist, not allowing them to dry out, especially during any hot dry spells of weather.
Black sacks look a bit of an eyesore so try to store in a shady spot out of sight, behind a shed for example.
How to Use Leaf Mulch
After a year the leaves will have made a good mulch, preventing weeds from germinating and helping to lock moisture into the soil. Some uses are as a winter cover for bare soil, autumn top dressing for lawns and as a general soil improver.
At this stage the leaves will be a crumbly material and still recognisable as leaves.
If you would prefer a good soil conditioner, enabling the soil to retain nutrients and moisture, then leave for a further year when you will find that the leaves have rotted down even further into a dark brown compost. This can then be used as a seed sowing compost, or when mixed equally with sharp sand, as a garden compost or as a good quality potting compost.
HOW TO MAKE A COMPOST HEAP
Having your own garden compost will provide you with a wonderful source of organic material, with the best time of year to make one being in the spring. You can buy bins fairly cheaply or if you wish, you could construct your own, a quick search of the internet will provide you with details of how to do this.
Layering the Heap
Once your bin is in place you will need to add a 10cm layer of drainage material, for example twigs or straw, follow this with a 15cm layer of garden waste, if the waste is dry add some water. Rather like making a sandwich keep putting in alternate layers of different materials, for example a brown layer, which will be the dry layer would be things like autumn leaves, straw, shredded newspaper and dead flowers. Follow this with a green layer such as grass clippings, fruit rinds and vegetable peelings.
In order to work properly a compost must heat up and requires a certain critical mass, which also needs to be layered for the heating process to work effectively. To help introduce the heat (bacteria and fungi) on top of each layer you add, add a sprinkling of soil or manure which will assist with the breakdown of the organic material.
Cover and leave for about three months while it all rots down. After waiting three months uncover, open the front and remove all the compost and then put it all back again! This will add air to the mix and help it rot down much more quickly.
After a further three months you will have a crumbly, sweet smelling brown compost ready for use in your garden.
Material You May Put on Your Compost
Shredded paper (except shiny paper, eg magazine paper) fabrics made of cotton or wool, tea bags, uncooked vegetable peelings, weeds, old unwanted bedding plants, dead leaves, straw, lawn mowings and clippings from soft hedges.
Material You Should Not Put on Your Compost
Any woody material from pruning, tougher material like this needs to be shredded first, synthetic materials, food scraps, bones, meat, diseased plants, soil pests, weeds with seed heads, roots from perennials, cat or dog waste.