How to build a leaf heap

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
To do
To do

Do not To do in January

Do not To do in February

Do not To do in March

Do not To do in April

Do not To do in May

Do not To do in June

Do not To do in July

Do not To do in August

Do not To do in September

Do To do in October

Do To do in November

Do not To do in December

Autumn leaves are mainly broken down by the slow action of fungi rather than by bacteria that decompose other compost bin ingredients quickly, so it’s best to compost them separately in a simple heap. To stop the leaves blowing away, it’s best to create a cage for them.

The leaves of all deciduous trees make good leaf mould. Small thin leaves such as birch break down fairly quickly, while large leathery ones such as chestnut benefit from being shredded first. Evergreen leaves and conifer needles take far longer to rot and should not be included in great quantities, and then only when chopped.

After a year, the leaves will have only half rotted, but will break up easily when handled. They can be used for soil improvement or for mulching around shrubs, where they will continue to rot down in situ. After two years most will have turned into fine, dark leaf mould. Use it as a seed-sowing medium or mixed with equal parts of fine garden compost, loam and sharp sand for potting.

Before you build your leaf heap, choose a position that’s out of sight but easy to access. It should be shaded in summer but not too sheltered from the rain.


You Will Need

  • Weed-smothering membrane
  • Chicken wire
  • Tree stakes (four)
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Wire or twine

Total time:

Step 1

Cut a piece of weed-smothering membrane to about 1m², allowing a little extra at the edges to tuck around the chicken wire. Use it to line the base of the heap to stop roots and weeds invading your leaf mould and rendering it unusable.


Step 2

Depending on the width of your chicken wire, cut four tree stakes and hammer them into the ground about 1m apart, using a rubber mallet.


Step 3

Cut a length of galvanised or coated chicken wire to go around the four posts, allowing some overlap, and secure it with wire or twine.


Step 4

Your cage is now ready. If you chop up the leaves first to reduce their volume, you’ll be able to cram more in. They will shrink down by about two-thirds once they start to rot and should be ready in a year or two.


Although no stirring or turning is strictly necessary, after a few months, it’s worth incorporating any still-dry leaves into the damper middle.

Acer leaf