What to do with Autumn leaves


The colours of autumn are stunning, but when it’s over you end up with a garden full of dry leaves.  There are a couple of issues with just leaving them on the ground. Firstly, they can smother small ground-cover plants, and when the leaves get wet, the plants underneath can suffer from a loss of light and start to rot. Additionally, rotting leaves tend to draw nitrogen out of the ground.

There is a solution though, which is much better than in the old days when people simply burnt them. The best way to use the leaves is to compost them. I know what a lot of people are thinking – they don’t rot down very well and they stick together, but there are solutions for this too.

By the time leaves drop from the tree, much of their nutrients have been removed, so they are essentially just carbon – or, put another way, food for microbes. What is lacking though is some nitrogen and a few other trace elements.

The first thing to do is to gather the leaves and then start layering them into the compost. Sprinkle on some organic Rooster Booster or Rapid Raiser, which have a carbon to nitrogen ratio around 8:1, which will bring up the nitrogen fairly quickly. I would use 1 handful per square metre, then another good layer of leaves and another handful of the nitrogen source and so on. In this way you are effectively building up a heap containing brown waste with a nitrogen source.

Once this is done, water the whole thing in with some GOGO Juice to start the breakdown process. Just make sure it’s not too wet – if you can squeeze water out it is certainly too wet. If so, add something like dry newspaper or more leaves. Your compost it should hold together slightly and be moist to the touch.

In essence, you end up with nice compost which should be ready to use by spring. If you turn the pile a few times during the next 4 months, you’ll end up with great compost that you can use in your garden.  If your compost pile gets nice and warm and if you see that the leaves are broken down, then you can be pretty sure that you got that carbon to nitrogen ratio right, so you don’t have to worry about drawing any out of the ground in spring. If you pile stays cold, there is generally not enough nitrogen, so add more Rooster Booster or Rapid Raiser and mix it in.

So don’t burn those leaves or throw them out as green waste – they are a great source of carbon for those microbes. If we can get microbes into the ground for spring, they will help your plants to grow and be healthy. They will also improve your soil structure.

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