It’s that time of year. Leaves are in plentiful supply and for those in the know, they are a valuable resource. The last two autumns around this time I have been scooping up sackloads of leaves in my local park.

This year’s leaves

Stored in those bin liners in an out of the way place, occasionally wetted down, they have been slowly decomposing into a useful product – leaf mould. Depending on the type and size of leaf, this process can take up to three years, so some patience is required. I recently ran out of patience and decided to make use of the batch I stashed two years ago. I assumed that the necessary magic would have happened. It was certainly much closer to the desired end product than it was one year ago.

1 year old leaf mould

In the one year old batch there were still many large pieces of leaves and plenty of leaf stems in evidence.

In the two year old batch there are fewer large pieces and much more of the crumbly small fragments that I’m looking for.

2 year old leaf mould

Clearly, though, it is not fully decomposed. Rather than put them back for another year, I decided to put it through a garden sieve. I let each bag dry out for a day or two to make this a bit easier. The sieved material is extremely fine and soft to the touch.

2 year old leaf mould – sieved

The larger pieces, sticks etc that didn’t make it through the sieving process are still useful. Some potential uses for this partially decomposed leaf matter are:

  • soil conditioner
  • as part of compost mix for woodland plants and ferns
  • mulch to protect delicate plants over the winter

I have previously used a bag of partly rotted leaf matter as an element of the compost mix for my fern planter living wall thingy. The ferns seem happy enough. More recently I have used a couple of bucket loads as a duvet for overwintering dahlias.

I have quite a bit of the finished product, I have more or less filled an old compost bag. I think I will mostly use it for seed sowing in the new year. As it is light, fluffy and inert it makes a perfect sowing medium, the new roots can easily spread through it. If I have any left over I will use as an ingredient in potting mix when it is time to move seedlings on.

Back to this year’s batch. My easily available trees are mostly big leaved trees like sycamore, and it seems those leaves really need three years to fully break down. In an attempt to speed up this process, this year I have borrowed my neighbour’s petrol mower, using it to chop up the newly collected leaves into smaller pieces.

It has worked a treat. A dozen bags of leaves have been reduced down to four, so not only will it rot down quicker, I will be using less space. Or maybe it means I should be collecting another couple of dozen bags of leaves!

I’ll be back soon with more garden gubbins.

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