Recycling garden debris is one of the best and most economical ways of boosting your soil and now’s the time to put your eco-friendly hat on and make some leaf mould out of fallen leaves.
Leaf mould is a humus-rich soil conditioner which makes a good mulch for beds and borders, although it provides few nutrients.
Richer leaf moulds can be made by adding a few grass clippings.
Fallen leaves can be stored in a wire mesh bin, or packed into black polythene sacks which have been perforated to allow air in.
The bags can be tied up and placed in the corner of the garden, where the leaves will decompose and can be used the following spring.
Leaves which are left in open bins may take longer to decompose.
It’s best to collect the leaves after it has rained, to ensure good decomposition.
If you haven’t a leaf vacuum which can suck them up, blow them out and shred them. A quick way of collecting them from the lawn is to use a lawnmower, which will shred leaves and add grass at the same time.
Shredding will speed up the decay of tougher leaves such as horse chestnut, sweet chestnut and sycamore.
Thick evergreen leaves such as holly and cherry laurel need to be shredded and added to the normal compost heap.
Pine needles break down extremely slowly – it may take three years before they are fully decomposed and ready to use, but they are excellent for use on acid-loving plants.
For the best leaf mould, use leaves from hornbeam, oak and beech. It’s best to leave them for at least a year before using.
If you leave them for two years or more, you should be left with a very fine crumbly leaf mould that can be used as a potting compost.
Of course, there are many other soil improvers you can use. Many gardeners make their own compost, while others splash out at garden centres on spent mushroom compost, horse manure and composted green waste.
In theory, you can compost anything organic, from kitchen peelings, teabags and coffee, to eggshells, ash, newspaper and cardboard, as well as garden trimmings, but never add fish or meat which may attract rats and leave out tough perennial weed roots, weed seeds and any diseased materials.
The bigger the heap and the more you put in at the same time, the faster the debris will break down. Start the heap off with something coarse and twiggy, to let in the air. Aim to add about half green materials to half dry, such as paper or straw.
Never add too many grass clippings or you’ll end up with green sludge, but make sure the dry materials are kept moist. You need patience because it takes around a year to break down.
Turn the heap every few weeks to help the material rot faster.
Adding bulky organic nutrients will boost your soil and should improve crops and give you better quality plants.
And it doesn’t have to be all hard graft. A trial of soil improvers on both vegetables and plants by Gardening Which?, the Consumers’ Association magazine, found that digging in the soil improver boosts the soil in the short term but spreading it over the area as a mulch has a longer-lasting effect.