If you want to feed your plants with one of the best types of organic matter there is, you need to make leaf mould. It’s a long process that requires a whole lot of patience, but once you get into the cycle of making leaf mould, you will be able to provide your plants with this excellent soil conditioner year after year.
What is leaf mould?
Leaf mould is decayed leaf matter that has broken down with the help of fungi, rather than bacteria (which is how regular compost is made). When the leaves have broken down correctly, they have a very dark brown, almost black appearance, with a texture that feels like rich soil.
It is made from leaves that have fallen off trees in autumn, but it can also be mixed with needles from pines and conifers. Leaf mould can take one to two years to make; for a slightly quicker process, oak, beech and hornbeam are the best leaves to use.
How to make leaf mould
The process of making leaf mould is easy – it just takes a lot of waiting! Here are the steps you need to take to create your leaf mould – plus the perfect rake to help you gather your leaves.
What to use to rake up your leaves
This isn’t just any old rake – it can be used with either a single or double head and features a comfortable grip and an adjustable pole.
The two heads can also be used separately as hand-held grabbers, making garden maintenance a doddle. This is ideal for when you’re raking in tricky places, such as under shrubs and bushes, benches, and around fences or walls.
Use the rake with a single head, double head, or take the heads off the pole to use as hand-held claw-like grabbers.
This handy rake is available from QVC here.
Step 1 – Create a leaf mould bin
If you have the space, a dedicated leaf mould bin is the ideal place to dump leaves whenever you decide to rake. You can make a leaf mould bin using some weed suppressing fabric, sturdy poles like tree stakes, and some chicken wire.
Position your bin in a sheltered place so it’s out of the hot midday sun, but not too sheltered as it needs to receive moisture from the rain.
If you don’t have the space, you can place your leaf mould in bin bags and pop them somewhere out of sight. You’ll want to add a little moisture to the bin bags, then create some air holes using some scissors, and tie the tops.
Step 2 – Collect your leaves
Wait until autumn to gather fallen leaves. Gather them throughout the season, adding more and more to your leaf pile as you go. You can collect your leaves from your garden or from public spaces. If you’re doing the latter, make sure your leaves are free from rubbish. Also, it’s better to collect them from places like parks, side streets and country lanes, rather than the areas next to busy roads – this is because cars often emit pollution which can impact the leaves and negatively impact your plants when you use the leaf mould in future.
Step 3 – Shred the leaves
Shredding the leaves makes it easier for them to turn into mulch. You can shred leaves using a shredder, if you have one. If not, you can place the leaves on your lawn, run them over with your mower, then collect the shreds.
Step 4 – Pile your leaves
Place your shredded leaves in your leaf mould bin (see step 1), or in bin bags out of sight. You’ll need to wait one to two years to be able to use the leaf mould.
How to use leaf mould
There’s so much that you can use leaf mould for! Although it is not high in nutrients – unlike regular compost – its structure and moisture retentive properties mean that it is ideal for:
- Growing young plants
- Soil improvement
- Winter covering for bare beds
- Top dressing for lawns in autumn
Know your trees? Take my leaf quiz!
Have you made leaf mould before? Leave your tips to help others in the comments!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.