Leaf mould – Alan Titchmarsh tells us how to make it

Leaf mould is a great soil conditioner for your garden. Alan Titchmarsh shares his advice on how to make it

use autumn leaves to improve soil with Alan Titchmarsh
(Image credit: Nick Fewings on Unsplash)

Who’d have thought leaf mould could be so good for the garden? While the beautifully coloured foliage of autumn disappearing from the trees is a cause for regret, the thought that it can be used to improve garden soil is a plus. And, it's a great motivator to get us outdoors, still pursuing and putting the most inspirational garden ideas into practice – even when the weather is a tad grim.

So, how to turn what looks like garden waste into a soil conditioner? Well, we've been taking a leaf – sorry – out of gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh's book. His expert advice on turning the scatter of foliage over lawns and beds into horticultural gold is getting us excited about gardening, composting and the likes. Juts keep scrolling for all the advice you need.

How to use autumn leaves to improve garden soil: Alan Titchmarsh’s top tips

1. Leaf mould creators, listen up! You shouldn’t wait until all the leaves are down to start on this project, says Alan Titchmarsh. Some trees won’t have lost their leaves entirely until Christmas, he reminds us and, in the meantime, grass left underneath fallen leaves for too long will die. Your first task, then, is to rake regularly.

Which leaves are you after? You can use leaves from all sorts of deciduous trees to make leaf mould, but those that are thick – for example, horse chestnut, sweet chestnut and sycamore – are best shredded first. 

It’s not just the lawn that should be cleared of leaves, either. Remove them from patios, decks and paths to stop them becoming slippery as well as reap the benefits of making your own soil improver.

If you want to support garden wildlife, however, you will want to let leaves remain under hedges and pile some of them up in sheltered corners to provide shelter for all sorts of garden creatures.

2. The easiest way to collect and store the leaves is in black plastic bin liners, Alan says. He uses a fork to make air holes in them first, then puts the leaves he’s raked up into the bag.

If you prefer and have the room, you can construct a more permanent feature for making leaf mould. Use a weed control fabric for the base, stakes at each corner, and chicken wire for the sides.

3. Dry leaves? These don’t pass muster because they won’t rot – which is what you want to happen. If they’re dry, you should dampen them, Alan advises. Then firm down the batch of just raked up leaves in the bag, and fold the top of the bag over and store until you add the next batch.

4. Patience is now required. Leave the bags of leaves you’ve created where they won’t be an eyesore for a year to allow them to rot, Alan says.

5. When you return to the leaves, you’ll find they’ve become brown and crumbly, Alan explains. He then takes this matter and pushes it through a garden sieve. What comes out is leaf mould.

6. You can work the leaf mould you’ve made into the soil to improve it – it’s especially good for heavy soil. It can be used as mulch, too, to help stop weeds coming up and keep the soil moist. In autumn, try it mixed with sharp sand and brushed into the grass to top dress a lawn. It’s also handy as a cover for bare soil in the winter months.

Check out Alan Titchmarsh’s advice on how to use autumn leaves to improve soil

Sarah Warwick
Freelance Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.