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We have gathered leaves onto one site for rotting down for at least 3 years. For the last 2 the trees nearby have shown clear signs of the leaf mining moth. We went on heaping them on to our heap. Now we learn that the problem is managed on the continent by burning the leaves. Is there anything we can do to kill any insects in the leaf mould without burning the whole lot?

Emma Crawforth

Dear Carole,

As you say the horse chestnut leaf miner is a moth. The caterpillars make the mines in the leaves, then pupate in there. This lifecycle takes around a year to complete. If the leaves are isolated, say in compost bags, any moths that hatch from the pupae will be kept within the bags until they die, so taking the leaves out of the bags in August is safe. If your leaf mould has not been added to for over a year, it should already be free from moths.

However, this problem is so persistent now that you shouldn't be surprised if it returns. Most trees in the South East of England seem to be infested now. I understand that good controls are being developed but these may not be available to home gardeners even when they come onto the market.

In summary, cover your leaf mould until August - if you've been adding to it in the past 10 months. Otherwise it should already be free of moths at this time of year and fine to use in your garden.

Emma team

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