Lockdown landscapes part 1: Leaf mulching"
Why do we mulch garden beds? Mulch helps to keep the plants warm and protected in the winter and the roots cool in the summer, mulch also helps to retain moisture in the soil which means less watering over the hot months. One of the main reasons for mulching is to suppress the weed growth, which means less time spent weeding. As mulch breaks down it adds organic matter to the soil which is beneficial for plant growth and wellbeing.
It also attracts worms which all adds up to a healthy ecosystem.
For those with trees in their garden, leaf mulch is a free and readily available product that we can all take advantage of in a time when we might not have another source of mulch available. Often leaves falling from trees at this time of the year can be seen as a nuisance, but with a little effort you can turn them into a useful and beneficial material for a healthy garden.
Collecting leaves for mulching
Leaf mulch is easy to collect and can often be used straight away. Smaller leaves can simply be raked up and applied straight to garden beds. You can even use leaves caught in your gutters or mow them up off of the lawn, setting the blades on high. This chops up the leaves and helps to speed up the process of decomposition, as well as making them easier to spread and less likely to blow away. If you have a garden vacuum, some of these will chop up the leaves as they suck them up, which is ideal. A small garden mulcher or woodchipper can also be used to make great leaf mulch.
There might be some trees which won’t make great mulch. Many evergreen trees have large glossy leaves (think evergreen Magnolias) which take a long time to break down - they are a good weed suppressant but might not be that good for the other plants, unless they are chopped up.
Leaves can also be aged into a fantastic type of compost called leafmould. This usually takes over a year, but why not start now? Leafmould is a ‘money-can’t-buy’ organic soil conditioner which will be useful in all areas of your garden.
Applying the leaves
Place the leaves in a thick layer (around 40-50mm) in your garden beds. It may help to dampen the leaves and squash them down a little to stop them blowing away. A good coating of leaves with no gaps will do wonders to supress weeds, hold in moisture and keep your plants warm over the winter months. Worms will also love you for this, they will come up and start pulling the leaves down into the ground, digesting them and leaving behind worm casts which are a great natural fertiliser for your plants.
Trees and their leaves have so many different benefits - from the time they appear in the spring until the time they break down and we can no longer see them; long after the leaf fall. Providing our hot summer months with well needed shade, to stunning displays of colour all through the growing season. They can provide hours of entertainment for children, collecting and piling up leaves in autumn and finally providing much needed nutrients to our plants allowing them to flourish.. So get out there and turn your headache into an asset!