Making leaf mould

Posted: Friday 1 November 2013
by Kate Bradbury

Leaf mould is not particularly nutritious, but it conditions the soil, lacing it with fungi and other micronutrients, which help plants grow.

The recent storm didn’t affect my garden much. I had been away for the weekend and came home to find a chair had blown over and my soil sieve was on the wrong side of the garden. In the nearby park just one tree had lost a large branch – otherwise all was as I had left it.

Except the garden and park were full of leaves. Leaf fall seems to have got off to a late start this year. I don’t know if it was down to the cold spring or the mild weather we’ve had recently, but autumn seems to have been taking its time. Finally, thanks to the wind, I can now kick piles of leaves in the park (as everyone should at this time of year).

I have also been gathering leaves to make leaf mould. Leaf mould is not particularly nutritious, but it conditions the soil, lacing it with fungi and other micronutrients, which help plants grow. Leaf mould also helps preserve moisture in the soil, increases worm activity below the surface, and it’s great for wildlife.

In the wild, leaves fall from trees, and small mammals, amphibians and insects shelter among them. Making leaf mould at home simply recreates this natural process. The best leaves to choose from are non-waxy ones such as oak, beech or hornbeam. These rot down quickly and so are ready to use sooner.

Whatever you do, don’t take leaves from beneath a hedge or tucked away corner of the garden, as wildlife may already be sheltering there. Choose leaves from the lawn and path, or your local park, instead.

If you have room to make a bespoke wire cage (using wooden posts and chicken wire), you will not only generate a free soil conditioner, but create habitats for wildlife too. Left beyond winter, this will offer nesting opportunities for small mammals and bumblebees, as well as a habitat for worms and woodlice, which feed on the decaying matter. Ground beetles, amphibians and other predators may use the heap to hunt prey.

I gather the leaves into plastic bags and pop them in my shed. They take around two years to turn to a rich, crumbly mulch, but this year I watered the leaves in the hope that the end result will come quicker. You can also mow over them before bagging them, which can also speed up decomposition.

This method isn't so beneficial to wildlife in terms of shelter, but the blackbirds seem to love picking through the finished product once I’ve spread it over my borders. And the plants love it too.

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oldchippy 01/11/2013 at 17:15

Hi Kate,I have cleared the leave from under my acer that were blown off by the wind Monday morning only to find a Daffodil growing about 25 mm out of the ground,maybe we are in for a mild winter,Oldchippy.

clk 01/11/2013 at 21:49

What are these signs? Is it the number of berries?

nutcutlet 01/11/2013 at 21:58

Plants and animals react to what has been, not what will be. All the 'signs' are in our heads

oldchippy 01/11/2013 at 22:15

It's not a good year for holly berries up on the golf course where I walk my dogs.

nutcutlet 01/11/2013 at 22:19

Nor in my garden oldchippy. I never have that many, wrong proportion of males and females perhaps, but this year is worse than usual. 

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