Clearing autumn leaves and putting them to good use is an essential job for this time of year. With the arrival of autumn comes a task that's the bane of the season for many gardeners: clearing those pesky fallen leaves. It might be tempting to leave them where they land, but they can cause problems with the lawn you've worked so hard to improve the rest of the year. They can also smother and damage small, low-lying and delicate plants.
Allowed to rot away on paths, patios and decked areas, leaf matter can become unsightly - and potentially a slippery hazard. In most areas, disposing of them along with your regular household waste isn't an option. Some gardeners resort to raking them into autumn bonfires, but these can be a real nuisance to neighbours.
So what's the alternative? Well, there is a simple solution that can make clearing autumn leaves less of a chore. Home composting has become very popular in recent years. You can follow our step-by-step guide to making your own compost.
Check out my easy-to-follow instructions for making your own leafmould and you might just find that the season's most tedious task is more rewarding than you ever realised.
First up, leafmould is a fantastic natural soil conditioner. It enriches the soil, vastly increasing its ability to retain water and providing a healthy sprinkling of micronutrients to help your plants grow. It's nothing short of a wonder ingredient, and the best part is that it won't cost you a single penny.
In fact, the only thing leafmould will cost you is the time it takes you to collect the autumn leaves. If, like most of us, you're going to be clearing up a small mountain of them anyway, put them to good use? In fact, it'll end up taking less time than tending a bonfire or driving sacks of leaves to the nearest drop-off site.
While it can take up to two years for leaves to decompose enough to make seriously good quality leafmould, the method I use can help to reduce this timescale a little, depending on the variety of leaf. Still, the golden rule is to be patient - only once the leaf matter has fully decomposed will you get the rich, crumbly end product that will do your soil - and your plants - so much good.
You'll want to start with shredded leaves, to help speed up the rate of decomposition. If you're going to be using a shredder, the first thing you'll need to do is collect up the leaves. If possible, choose a day when the weather is on your side.
If you own a leaf blower, collecting the leaves while they're slightly wet can actually give you a head start in terms of decomposition. If not, opting for a dry day with little to no wind will make your job easier. Prepare a receptacle for the leaves - this could be a garden refuse sack or a plastic sheet spread on the ground.
If you're not lucky enough to own a shredder, the easiest approach is to use your regular lawnmower. Use a leaf rake to move any fallen leaves from borders and paved and decked areas onto your lawn. Next, mow as usual, with the blade set at its highest level. In colder weather, avoid mowing when there's been a frost as this can damage the grass.
Be prepared to mow over the leaves more than once if necessary. If your mower collects cuttings as it goes, this may mean emptying them back out once or even twice to ensure sufficient shredding.
Once shredded, collect the shredded leaves into a garden waste sack or heavy duty bin liner, making a few holes with a garden fork or similar to enable drainage. You don't have to fill the bag in one go - feel free to start one at the beginning of autumn and keep adding more leaves to it as they fall.
Once you've got a full bag of leaves, sprinkle them with water - some moisture is also good for speeding up the process - give them a stir or shake to evenly distribute, and then tie up the bag and move it out of the way.
With leafmould you're playing the long game, so check progress every now and then. Keeping the leaves moist will prevent decomposition from slowing down, so don't hesitate to add another sprinkling of water from time to time, especially in warmer climates.
Above all, don't be tempted to use the product before it's had enough time to fully decompose - like all good things, quality leafmould is worth waiting for!