Garden Advice

Everything You Need to Know About Leaf Mulch and How to Make It

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.

Table of Contents:

So if you:

  • Own a garden and want to put your fallen leaves into good use
  • Want to learn how to turn leaf mould into fertilizer
  • Want to learn of the benefits of using leaf mulch

This post is for you!

What is leaf mulch?

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).

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Another great use for leaf mulch is that it can be turned into leaf mould. 

What is 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.

How to make leaf mulch and turn it into leaf mould

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.

  • Mix the leaves with green grass clippings – Since leaves contain high levels of carbon and the microbes that decompose them require nitrogen, adding green grass clippings will stimulate the metabolism and growth of the microorganisms and speed up the process.
  • Water it –  Especially if you live in a drier region, watering the pile regularly will stimulate decomposition.
  • Turn it over – This is particularly important if you are dealing with a bigger pile. The leaves need to get aerated, otherwise, they will start to rot and become acidic, which in turn can damage your plants when used as mulch.

Using leaf mulch and leaf mould in your garden

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:

  • Fertilize your garden – Spread a thin layer of shredded leaf mulch around your lawn. This will add organic matter to your garden and act as a natural fertilizer.
  • Protect your trees and shrubs – Apply four to five inches of mulch around your trees and shrubs to protect their bases.
  • Feed your soil – Mix leaf mulch that has already been turned into leaf mould to fertilise your garden soil and enhance its texture.

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.

Leaf mulch benefits

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 benefits

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.

Types of leaves you can use for leaf mould

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.

Need help? Call the professionals!

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. 

Want your leaves cleared by a professional?

Get in touch with us today.

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Takeaways: 

  • Leaf mulch is the Garden’s Gold and is the most effective low-to-no-cost fertilizer that will strengthen your soil if you’ve waited enough and turned into leaf mould.
  • Use leaf mulch to suppress weeds, encourage healthy root growth and protect your plants from freezing.
  • Mix leaf mould with green grass to increase the overall nitrogen balance if you intend to make a natural fertiliser.
  • Oaktree leaves make fantastic mulch that can be turned into leaf mould to feed your garden beds, so do not be afraid to use them

Image source: Shutterstock / Alison Hancock

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