Fallen leaves; a gift for the garden
For some, autumn brings with it a potential new weekend hobby leaf clearing!
For some it’s a real nuisance, but for others, a fantastic and valuable free resource for the garden. Turn the chore of leaf clearance into the joy of leaf collecting.
Leaf litter is a free supply of organic matter. Fallen leaves provide a protective weed-suppressing mulch, and vital habitat for creatures such as hedgehogs. The leaves are then broken down by worms and microorganisms, forming a fantastic soil improver. This organic matter helps the soil to hold nutrients back against rain, reduces waterlogging by opening up the soil structure, and retains water during dry spells.
If you’ve got a good source of autumn leaves, the idea of dumping them in the recycling bin, and then driving to the garden centre to buy expensive mulches and soil improvers in big plastic bags may be starting to sound a bit like false economy.
Leaves can be left in deep borders to rot down naturally, but do remove leaves from:
- Gravel and paved areas
- Ponds and water features
- Formal lawns
- The crowns of slug-prone perennials such as delphiniums
- Silver-leaved plants such as lavender
- Areas where you are hoping for seeds of annuals and biennials to germinate in early spring, such as foxgloves and poppies.
When it comes to tools, mowers with a collection bag can be used to vac up leaves from lawns, and ‘mulch-mowing’ shreds leaves to help them rot down quicker. Use a light plastic rake for smaller lawns and a thin spring-tined rake for working through borders. Leaf blowers work best on dry days to remove leaves from gravel and paved areas.
Fresh leaf litter is light and voluminous (now that’s a good word!) and very easily blown about. The traditional practice of rotting down leaves in piles, chicken wire racks or punctured bags to make much denser flaky compost brings the benefit that when used as mulch, it looks tidier and tends to stay put. Once rotted down, the significant reduction in volume makes it much easier to handle and spread. Leaves piled up now, will likely be ready for use in around 18 months time.
The thin leaves of beech and hornbeam make a silky leaf mould, whereas thicker leaves such as horse chestnut benefit from being shredded first. The leaves of evergreens such are better added into regular compost and save pine needles for spreading around acid-loving plants.
Use well-rotted leaf mould as thick weed-suppressant mulch beneath young trees, hedges and shrubs. Plants associated with damp rich soils or woodland-type conditions will appreciate the goodness of leaf mould, such as hydrangeas and hellebores. Come spring, bulbs will have little issue pushing through a nourishing layer of rotting leaves.
Not only does well rotted leaf mulch smell amazing, I always look forward to seeing the fresh green spears of snowdrop leaves piercing through dark frosted leaf mould on a bright winter's day.
Until next time, happy gardening.