Autumn leaves are nature’s own soil improver, recycling nutrients and adding the humus that plants need to thrive. Fallen leaves in autumn are a valuable resource in the garden – they can be composted, gathered under hedges as shelter for wildlife, or turned into leaf mould.
Find out how to collect autumn leaves.
Fibrous, moisture-retentive and free-draining, leaf mould is useful in potting composts and for mulching around border plants. Watch our video on making leaf mould.
It’s best to mix leaves of a similar type together, so that they rot down at the same speed.
Read our advice on the different types of autumn leaves and how best to use them, below.
Leaves that are quick to break down
Leaves that are low in fibrous lignin and high in nitrogen and calcium will produce leaf mould within a year. Add directly to a mesh bin or bagged without chopping.
Leaves to use: ash, beech, birch, cherry, elm, hornbeam, lime, oak, poplar, willow
Leaves that are slow to break down
Trees with large, tough leaves that are high in lignin and low in nitrogen and calcium take 18-24 months to break down. Chop up with a mower or garden shredder.
Leaves to use: deciduous shrubs, hawthorn, maple, magnolia, sycamore, horse chestnut
A waxy resin coats the needles, so they take over a year to break down. Leave uncovered and mix every six to eight weeks. Moisten in dry weather, ideally using rainwater. Use to mulch or pot acid-loving plants.
Leaves to use: pines, conifers
Evergreen leaves also have a waxy coating and can stick together, slowing decomposition. Shredded, they rot down best in the heat of a mixed-ingredient compost bin or heap.
Leaves to use: aucuba, bay, holly, laurel, photinia, rhododendron, skimmia
Making leaf mould
Leaf mould can be made by storing leaves in a mesh bin, made of chicken wire pinned to wooden posts. Leaves should be moist, but not soaking wet, and must not be packed too tightly. Find out how to make a leaf mould bin. For smaller quantities, make leaf mould in plastic sacks – put moist leaves into plastic bin bags, loosely tied at the top and punched with holes in the sides.