Grow at Home: Making leaf mould (or free compost!)•
Posted on 9 November 2020
Leaf mould is also known as Gardeners Gold and is an amazing soil conditioner. It is that glorious stuff you find on forest floors created from all the decaying leaves. Generally it takes two years to make although you can use it slightly differently after only one (In case you are the impatient sort!)
When to make leafmould
The obvious time is Autumn / Fall when deciduous trees drop their leaves. But if you have pine trees you will find that these drop their needles throughout the year, with more activity in spring, so gathering them will be ongoing.
What leaves can be used?
Any leaves, even pine needles, can be used as they all break down eventually into leafmould. some need more encouragement than others though. Oak, beech or hornbeam make the best leafmould and will all break down with little assistance and produce an excellent quality product. The thicker and leatherier the leaves the more help they will need. So leaves like horse and sweet chestnut, sycamore or walnut will break down easier if you shred them first before adding them to the leafmould pile.
Evergreens leaves such as holly, cherry laurel and conifer hedge clippings need even more help. These need to be shredded and will then benefit from the heat of an active compost heap to speed up the process. Otherwise it will be 3 or more years before they start to decay sufficiently.
If you have ericaceous plants like blueberries, heathers, rhododendrons or azaleas then you might want to make a separate leaf mould pile of pine needles. The leafmould they produce will be acidic and perfect for your ericaceous plants.
How to make leafmould
Collect leaves when the weather is still and dry to avoid the wind undoing all your neat piles! Start with the leaves in your own garden but you can also collect from public places too. I'm sure the council will be more than happy of all the leaves suddenly disappear! Beware of collecting from major thoroughfares as the leaves may pick up the pollution from the traffic. So head to the back roads for cleaner leaves.
There are several ways to collect leaves. You can rake them into piles or use a garden vacuum if you have one. Or better still, for leaves on the lawn - mow them. This will chop them up. you can then empty them from the grass box with a nice sprinkling of nitrogen rich grass to add to the mix. If you have larger leathery leaves then you can either chop them up with a sharp spade or you can mow as outlined above.
Where to store the leaves
Many gardeners use bin liners stabbed with holes to store their leaves. If you are doing this then place the leaves in the bag and moisten them then tie the bag loosely before storing. You will want to put these unsightly lumps of black plastic behind the shed or somewhere out of sight.
If you are going to use the resulting leafmould for growing food or just want to reduce the amount of plastic you are using then using a natural, jute sack is a much better alternative. Pack the leaves tightly into your Composting Sack in the same way and tie the top. Then place at the back of a border or around the base of a tree for the winter.
The first benefit of this is that you will suppress weeds. But also, the rain will wash the nitrogen out into the surrounding soil and feed your plants. Alternatively you could place it on a raised bed over winter. When it comes to Spring you will have a weed free bed and rotted organic matter that can be dug in to condition your soil. There may be some larger leaves that haven't rotted and these can be removed and added to the compost pile.
Wherever you put it, turn the sack every now and to aerate and moisten if you have a particularly dry spell - both of these will speed up the decaying process.
If you have a lots of trees, and enough room in your garden, then you can store leaves in a frame. Make this from chicken wire and wooden stakes . Build it in a sheltered part of the garden so the wind doesn't empty it every time we have a storm. Then keep an eye on it as you would your compost heap and moisten occasionally if it seems dry. One of the issues of doing it this way is that Leafmould heaps can become covered in weeds. These might be spread when you use the leafmould so watch out for this. If your leafmould pile is slow to break down, try turning it regularly to aerate the leaves and speed up the breakdown process. Make sure that the leaves do not dry out, moistening the pile if necessary in hot, dry weather
Uses of Leafmould
2 Year Old Leafmould
2 year old well-rotted leafmould can be used as seed-sowing compost. Alternatively, you can mix it equally with sharp sand, garden compost and soil to make potting compost. One Year old Leafmould Use as mulch, soil improver, autumn top-dressing for lawns, or winter covering for bare soil.
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