Garden AdviceWhat Is Mulching and What Are Its Advantages?
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When autumn starts knocking on your door and trees begin showering you with their leaves, most of us start dreading the task of endless raking and disposing of the latter. But, many are unaware of the numerous benefits that can be extracted from freshly fallen leaves. So, in this post, we will teach you how to turn your leaf-covered garden from a con to a pro and how to make nutritious leaf mulch from the fallen leaves in your garden.
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Leaf mulch is one of the organic types of mulch. It’s a layer of leaves that is laid over the soil’s surface, acting as a cover. To increase the effectiveness of the mulch, it is recommended that you shred the leaves or cut them into little pieces, the smaller, the better. Spreading the leaf mulch around your trees and plants will help improve the soil texture, as well as suppress the growth of weeds. Also, it boosts the water-retention properties of the soil, which can be invaluable during lengthy dry spells of weather. Another huge plus of leaf mulch is that all you need to make it is a few empty bin bags and some free time (to collect the fallen leaves).
Another great use for leaf mulch is that it can be turned into leaf mould.
Leaf mould is formed from decomposed leaves and is a thick, crumbly black substance. It acts as an invaluable soil conditioner, which strengthens the soil’s structure and helps it retain moisture. Unlike leaf mulch, leaf mould takes time before it is ready to use – usually a year.
Step 1. Collect the fallen leaves
The easiest way to collect the leaves is by using a garden vacuum or a leaf blower, however, a garden rake will do the job just fine. If possible, try using a rubber rake as a metal-tinned one can be too rough on your garden soil and might damage it.
Step 2. Sort the leaves.
When collecting leaves, beware of rotten and sick ones. Avoid mixing them with your healthy ones, as you run the risk of spreading the disease to your plants when mulching them. Also, be wary about collecting leaves mixed with litter, as those will struggle to decompose and can ultimately contaminate your soil when used as mulch.
Step 3. Shred the leaves
Once collected, you need to break down the leaves into smaller pieces. Most leaf blowers and lawnmowers have a shredding option, making the process effortless. For manual shredding, you can put your leaves in a large sturdy plastic bucket and cut them up using a grass trimmer. And that is it, your leaf mulch is now ready to be used.
Now let us look at the next steps you can take to turn your mulch into nutritious leaf mould.
Step 4. Stack the leaves in a pile
The fourth step of making your own leaf mould is to dedicate a corner of your garden to stack the leaves up. Stuff all the leaves in sturdy bin bags and tie them up at the top. Next, make a few holes in the bags using a garden fork or a knife. The holes will help the leaves breathe and prevent them from turning into a smelly mush. Lastly, store the bags in a shady area of your garden and let them rest for 6 to 12 months.
Should you be stacking a bigger volume, it is best to build a DIY composter.
Step 5. Wait till your leaf mould is ready.
On average, your leaf mould will take around 12 months to be ready. However, there are a few tricks you can do to speed up the process.
Using decomposed leaves as mulch in the garden is a fantastic way to turn on the natural recycling system. Well-decomposed leaf mould, that is over two years old is best used as compost for seed sowing. Younger leaf mould (less than a year old) on the other hand is more suitable as a soil improver or to shelter the soil in the winter. Here are some more ideas on how to put your leaf mulch into good use:
And if you wish to make your garden healthier, but you don’t have the time to shred the fallen leaves, simply spread them evenly on the ground and the garden worms will do their magic.
During the cold winter months, leaf mulch provides many benefits for your garden. Well-spread mulch will suppress the growth of weeds in your garden. Moreover, it will act as insulation for plants and trees, keeping them cosy during winter.
Mulching your garden will also safeguard the earthworms from being eaten by birds.
Leaf mould will contribute to protecting your garden’s soil from erosion and reduce water loss through evaporation. Preserving the water in your garden will prevent your soil from crusting (crusting happens when the soil dries out and can have a huge negative effect on plants)
Last but not least leaf mould will improve the soil structure and provide a lavish environment for beneficial bacteria and earthworms. For more information on how to improve your soil check out our dedicated post.
Almost all leaves are suitable for making leaf mould, however, depending on their type, some will take longer to decompose than others.
Leaves that are low in lignin but rich in nitrogen and calcium, such as lime, birch, ash, elm and cherry, will make leaf mould within a year and do not require shredding.
On the other hand, large, chunky leaves, low in nitrogen and calcium, but rich in lignin will take 18 months to a year to decompose. Such leaves are hawthorn, maple, magnolia, horse chestnut and they require shredding to speed up the process. However, once decomposed they will produce the highest quality leafmould.
Evergreens are another source of leaf mould but due to their waxy coating, they tend to stick together and slow decomposition. Best practice shows they decay faster when piled in a compost bin mixed with other ingredients.
Conifers’ needles have a very slow rate of decomposing and can take over a year up to three years before they turn into leaf mould. Their waxy resin coat protects them from breaking, so you would need to accelerate the process by moistening them regularly. Their leaf mould is very beneficial for acid-loving plants.
When it comes to leaves we should avoid using for making leaf mould, the oak tree sparks an interesting debate. Many gardeners stray away from oak leaves altogether, saying they are too acidic and might damage the soil. Although the acidity part of that is true, as the leaves decompose, their acid levels drop significantly, as well. Moreover, experts claim that the best mould is produced by oak leaves and the only thing we should avoid doing is eating them.
If you have any trouble dealing with the amount of fallen leaves in your garden, do not hesitate to give us a call. Our expert garden clearance team can assist you by professionally cleaning the garden for you. We will pack all the leaves in big bags for you and it is for you to decide whether you want to keep them for mulching purposes or for us to dispose of them for you.
Get in touch with us today.
Image source: Shutterstock / Alison Hancock