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What to do with autumn leaves

By Adelaide Gray

Find out what you need to do to turn your autumn leaves into a fantastic compost with Which? Gardening's easy guide.

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How do I make leaf mould?

The best thing you can do with autumn leaves is to compost them on their own to make a rich soil improver called leaf mould. This can then be used as a mulch on bare soil, where it will help retain moisture and suppress weeds, and then improve the soil as it rots down.

Which? Gardening has trialled different methods of making leaf mould and this was the best as the leaves rotted quickly and leaf mould was ready to use in only 12 months. As the leaves were shredded, we could also put more in each bag compared to whole leaves:

  • Shred the leaves by running over them with a lawn mower or by collecting them with a leaf blower vac.
  • If the leaves aren't moist already, sprinkle them with water.
  • Put them in black plastic bags and seal when full.
  • Use a garden fork to pierce a few holes in the bag.
  • Leave the bags in a quiet corner of the garden.
  • Your light, crumbly leaf mould should be ready in 12 months.

Can leaves go in the compost bin?

If you have a compost bin, you can add layers of autumn leaves. Make sure you add other materials, such as veg peelings from the kitchen or grass clippings.

Leaves can be quite tough and dry so the best idea is to shred them before you put them in the compost bin. Some leaf blower vacs shred leaves when you suck them up. Alternatively for leaves on the lawn, you can go over them with a lawn mower and it will cut them up.

Can leaves by used as mulch?

Shredded leaves make a good mulch for borders, vegetable beds and beneath trees and shrubs. Add a 5cm-deep layer of shredded leaves to your beds, but try to keep the mulch from touching the stems of any shrubs and plants. 

The mulch will help the soil retain moisture and limit weed growth. As the leaves decay they will rot down to improve the soil. Depending on the type of leaves and the conditions, it will take around two years for the leaves to rot.



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