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  • Cleaning up fallen leaves is the burden of many a gardener. Just as you have finished, the leaves start to fall again! It can feel like trying to hold back the tide. Did you know you can make incredible leaf mould compost from fallen leaves to enrich your garden? This how-to guide will show you a super easy way to make your own free leaf mould compost!

    I don’t know of any gardener than likes cleaning up leaves but come the Autumn months it is something that most gardeners need to tolerate. Leaf mould compost is an excellent way to rid yourself of wet slimy leaves and enrich your garden with nutrient-rich leaf mould compost.

    It costs virtually nothing and, if you don’t mind waiting around 12 months, then you have a perfect compost to mulch our garden with.

    red leaves on a tree

    How to make leaf mould

    Leaf mould is super easy to make and all it requires is patience and a place to store your leaves as they break down. You don’t need to add anything special and can pretty much use any leaves, though deciduous leaves that fall are faster to break down than evergreen leaves.

    The steps to making leaf mould are:

    1. Collect fallen leaves
    2. Store in some form of breathable container or bag
    3. Keep moist
    4. Leave until the leaves have naturally broken down to reveal a dark brown light compost

    There are two main ways to make leaf mould: the slower way when you have huge amounts of leaves ie many large trees or the quicker way for smaller gardens where you may only have one or two trees leaves to deal with.

    Let’s take a look at both ways of making leaf mould to see which way is best for your garden.

    Making Leaf Mould in Compost Bins

    The traditional way of making leaf mould involves creating composting bins of at least 1m x 1m in diameter. You can use four wooden stakes and then staple chicken wire against them to make the easiest leaf mould bin. Alternatively, you can follow my pallet compost bin guide here to make really sturdy well-constructed leaf mould bins.

    These bins are then lined with chicken wire to allow airflow and to help the leaves break down. You can see an example of two leaf mould bins below.

    The disadvantage is that it takes a large amount of space and if you don’t use mesh around every side of the bin a sudden gust of wind can suddenly whip out most of your leaves, taking you back to square one of having to clean them up again!

    leaf composting bins

    I find that this method is the best when trying to dispose of large amounts of leaves. To avoid the issue of the wind disturbing them, I find a plastic sheet on top with a brick usually does the trick. The above bins are of quite a crude construction method I prefer to use pallets for compost bins which are sturdier and have greater longevity.

    A leaf mould compost bin

    I find making more stable bins means they last longer and you can easily contain your leaf collection until they rot down. The above compost bin is made from pallets making it super easy and secrure.My compost bin guide below shows you a quick method of making large bins for leaf mould.

    How to make leaf mould quickly in bags

    There is a far easier way which involves using bin liners or bags to make leaf mould, especially if new to leaf mould. This takes about half the time of the traditional method and guarantees you amazing leaf mould compost in about 12 months.

    It’s also great for those with space restrictions and those who can’t build permanent compost bins. It allows you to make leaf mould and experience its benefits before committing to building custom permanent leaf mould compost bins.

    Equipment to make leaf mould

    • Bin liners or spent builders bags
    • Recently fallen leaves
    • Garden Shredder (if you’re really in a rush for the good stuff!)
    • Scissors
    • Somewhere out of direct sunlight to store the bags of leaves.

    Step 1: Collect your leaves

    Fill a bin liner 2/3 full of leaves. I recommend deciduous leaves as these break down really quickly. Evergreen or waxy leaves can take a long time to decompose and may need shredding. To speed up the process a shredder will help cut the leaves into smaller particles expediting the process significantly!

    leaves in a bag

    Step 2: Fill your bag and tie it up

    Compress the leaves down tightly and then tie the bin liner up with a double knot. I only recommend filling 2/3 of the way so you have enough liner left to tie. If they have drawstrings you can fill your bin liner all the way up with leaves!

    tying a bin bag

    Step 3: Add drainage if need be

    Using the scissors puncture some air holes around the side and the bottom of the bag. This allows any excess moisture to escape and stops the leaves from simply rotting into a foul soup of goop. If using empty builders bags these are already porous so don’t need these holes adding.

    piercing a bin liner

    Step 4: Store the bag out of sunlight

    Store the bag(s) somewhere out of direct sunlight. Ideal places are behind sheds or slightly shady spaces. Don’t rest them against buildings as moisture build-up could cause damp. You can even store them one on top of each other as long as there is drainage and can help you make maximum amounts of leaf mould!

    Step 5: Leave the leaves to rot down

    Forget about the bags for around 12 months. Go have a brew and enjoy life.

    Hand full of leaf mould
    This leaf mould needs more time, pop it back in and come back to it.

    Step 6: Check if the leaf mould is ready and then use

    After 12 months check the bag, if the contents are a dark brown rich colour, then the mould is ready. If still a bit slimy or wet then leave for an additional month and recheck. Once it is a nice loose crumb you’re good to start using your excellent leaf mould around the garden!

    Leaf mould in garden ninjas hand

    Reusing builders sacks for leaf mould

    If you’ve recently had hard landscaping done or ordered any materials from a builders yard the chances are you will have a couple of these huge plastic woven sacks lying around. Rather than sending them to landfill why not reuse them to make amazing leaf mould?

    Simply stuff them full of leaves, use the corner loops to tie up and then leave somewhere out of the way for 12-18 months whilst they break down. They don’t need draining holes as they already let water and air pass through them. It’s a great way to start gardening without plastic. You can read my other gardening without plastic tips here.

    Leaves in builders tonne bags
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    What does leaf mould look like?

    When leaf mould is ready for use it should be a dark rich brown colour. Slightly moist and crumbly. This is when it is at its prime. If it is dry and dusty it may have already lost most of its good stuff. If it still looks like wet leaves then it needs longer!

    Fresh leaf mould in hand

    Can I use evergreen leaves for leaf mould?

    The quick answer is yes you can. However, they will take a lot longer to break down.

    If you’re using evergreen leaves from either hedge clippings or prunings of shrubs it’s best to shred them before making leaf mould out of them. I mix them in with deciduous leaves to help speed the process up along with chopping up any glossy evergreen leaves.

    Another word of caution is to avoid any thorny leaves, in particular Holly or Pyracantha where the barbs or spines stay there for years. It can make for a sharp surprise when grabbing a handful of leaf mould!

    Cutting evergreen hedges

    Hedge clippings like the Griselinia evergreen hedge above can make for great leaf mould if you can allow it to rot down over 2 years in a leaf mould bin. Alternatively, you can add most hedge clippings to a regular compost bin for faster results.

    What can you use leaf mould for?

    Leaf mould has many uses in the organic garden or for growing your own plants or vegetables. Let’s take a look at the many uses for leaf mould.

    • Leaf mould is an excellent mulch that can help improve your soil condition and protect plants from water stress during periods of high temperatures during the summer months.
    • Leaf mould is incredible for seedlings and propagating plants. As it has such a fine crumb structure its great for seedlings to root in and is super free draining.
    • If you need to help break up compacted soil then leaf mould is really useful in adding air and imrpoving soil texture.
    • Use leaf mould as a top dressing for a lawn to add a slow release feed in Autumn or Spring.
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    If you are wondering how best to mulch and what the benefits are, why not read my guide on how to mulch here.

    Happy composting!

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