Making your own leaf mould is a simple way to improve your orchard’s health, adding vital nutrients to the soil food web and increasing your fruit tree’s resilience. We always advise adding mulch around your fruit trees, and mixing leaf mould into your mulch will further strengthen the soil food web.
What is leaf mould?
Leaf mould is decomposed leaf litter. Adding it into your mulch will mean that your soil more closely resembles the forest floor conditions in which your fruit trees’ ancestors evolved. Leafy material will enable a wider diversity of microorganisms to coexist, bringing the soil into a healthy balance. This will feed your trees and protect them from disease. It will also dramatically increase the aeration and drainage of the soil, increasing the food available for worms and invertebrates, strengthening the ecosystem.
How to make leaf mould
- Gather leaves as soon as they start falling, while their nitrogen content is high and their cells are still hydrated (and therefore more amenable to decomposition)
- If you have access to a lawn mower, shredding the leaves with it will accelerate their decomposition
- Gather leaves (only) into a cage (see below) covered with tarp, or bin with air holes. Turn occasionally, keep aerated and moist.
- If you don’t have a cage or bin, gathering into bin liners or rubble sacks with a few holes poked in will also work, but will not have the advantage of contact with the soil and its team of decomposing organisms.
- Shredded, well-turned leaves can be ready in 6-12 months. Otherwise it may take 2-3 years to see the crumbly texture of humus that you are looking for. So start now and plan for the years ahead.
- When your leaf mould is ready, mix it with your woodchip mulch and create a wide (at least 1m) circle around your trees, leaving a ‘doughnut’ hole around the base of the trunk to protect the graft-union from rot. The proportion should be about 3:1 woodchip to leaf mould.
Building a leaf mould cage
You can easily make a square cage with chicken wire stapled to small wooden stakes at each corner or tied to bamboo canes with garden wire. Keep it simple and lightweight so it’s easy to move if needed. Cutting a door on one side will help with removing and turning the pile, but be careful of exposing sharp edges of the wire mesh.