Autumn – or Fall as the Americans call it; a very descriptive name for a season epitomised by leaves falling from deciduous trees. Raking up the fallen leaves can be an ongoing task, but there are rewards; consider the delicious leaf compost you can make to feed your soil.
It is particularly important to clear leaves from ponds before they decompose and release carbon dioxide into the water. A net is good for pond leaf collecting; for lawns and borders use a soft pronged leaf rake; for paths and drives a stiff brush. There are also available ‘paddles’ or scoops which make picking up leaves so much easier. In the trade we know them as ‘leaf scoopy things’, and find them helpful for picking up cut debris throughout the year. They’re a useful investment and come in different sizes, for domestic purposes the smaller size is more manageable.
We’re not great lovers of leaf blowers that merely move the leaves to a different spot with lots of noise. Leaf vacuums, which suck up the leaves into a bag that you then empty, are more practical. They can still be noisy and unless you are really bothered by leaves probably not a worthwhile investment when it will be sitting in the shed for 10 months of the year. We have one client whose garden is surrounded by deciduous trees; funnily enough the strong winds that bring the leaves down all at once are welcome in that garden!
So, what do you do with all those leaves?
· Collect your leaves into special leaf compost bags (loose woven jute) or black bin liners. If you have lots of leaves, or prefer to keep them tidy, then use a leaf compost bin. This is basically a bin made of mesh and if you’re feeling in a diy mood, easy to make from chicken wire or other mesh and some pieces of 2’ by 2’ wood. Or you could use straight (ish) branches that you’ve pruned from a tree, to be even more economical.
· If the leaves are dry, moisten them when bagged.
· If using bin liners, puncture the sides to allow air to circulate.
· Leave the leaf compost in the garden untouched for 12 – 24 months. The longer you leave it, the finer the material will be.
· Once broken down, the leaf mould can be used to mulch around plants, as a soil improver, and, when sieved finely, as compost for seed sowing.
If you’re in the invidious position of being surrounded by trees and really have no space to store the leaves and no friends or neighbours who would like them, try offering them on Freecycle, or they can be recycled at your local green waste recycling depot or through your local Council’s green waste collection scheme.
Leaf Compost All Year Round
If you’re bothered by leaves throughout the year, you might like to try composting leaves and lawn clippings in alternate layers. This mix needs to be kept in separate compost bin to other compost, but works better in a closed bin rather than an open sided one. At the start, put a layer of soil, or compost from another bin into the base, ensuring there are some worms in this soil. If the leaves are wet rather than dry then add some dry, fine twiggy material. Check the mix regularly and turn/ lift the mix occasionally to increase the air flow. The trick is to keep the balance between the brown, carbon rich dead leaves and the green nitrogen rich grass clippings. This will rot down in c12months into a rich soil improver.
Other matters to consider:
Some leaves take longer to rot down than others, oak and holly for example.
Conifer foliage is best kept separate to create compost suitable for acid loving rhododendrons, camellias and blueberries.
For some tips on compost have a look at our YouTube video