How to make leaf mulch – with Monty Don's advice

The gardening expert shares the secret to ‘very good mulch’ – but you need to act this month to get your leaf mold in good shape

Leaves for leaf mold and leaf mulch
(Image credit: Getty Images)

November is the month to make leaf mulch, according to Monty Don – however, you may need to act fast – for healthy greenery in 2022. 

According to the BBC Gardener’s World presenter, this month is the best time to collect the fallen leaves to make leaf mold for your future emerging plants – but what does the process involve? Monty Don’s garden ideas have the answer. 

What is leaf mulch?

Leaf mulch – or leaf mold as you will also hear it called – is a mulch you can start creating in fall and into winter for use the following spring and summer. It is simply made with fallen leaves left to decompose separately to the rest of your compost

How to make leaf mulch – Monty Don's top tips

Lirodendron tulipifera tulip tree in autumn with curved tree seat

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

In his latest blog, the green guru shares all the winter garden ideas you need to know before the month concludes. This includes expert tips on making leaf mulch. Plus, we've added our own tips so you can make the very best leaf mulch for your plants.

1. Gather and store fallen leaves

‘Keep gathering fallen leaves, mowing them, keeping them damp and storing in a bay or bin bags to make leaf mould,’ Monty says. However, with the last of the leaves set to fall, it’s important to gather as many as you can in the coming days.’

2. Chop up the leaves to speed up the readiness of the mulch

As Monty explains, when gathering leaves it helps to chop them up. 

‘The easiest way to do this is to mow them, which also gathers them up as you do it,’ Monty says. ‘Of course, if the leaves are too wet, they will clog the mower up, so I try and sweep and rake them into a line when dry, run the mower over them and then give them a soak with the hose when they are in the special chicken wire-sided bay.’

However, if you don’t have the space for a dedicated leaf mulch bay, Monty’s small garden ideas work just as efficiently too. 

3. No compost heap? A black plastic bag will work

The garden expert recommends adding the mown leaves into a black bin bag before puncturing some drainage holes in the bottom. He then suggests soaking them, and letting it drain thoroughly. Then simply store it out of sight for the time being.

‘Either way, the leaves will quietly turn into leafmold over the next six months without any further attention,’ Monty adds. ‘You can also use them in spring in a half-decomposed state, as a very good mulch around emerging plants.’

4. Wet the leaves to encourage decomposition

Sharing his tips on permaculture gardening, Monty explains that ‘leaves decompose mostly by fungal action rather than bacterial which means that dry leaves can take a [awfully] long time to turn into the lovely, friable, sweet-smelling soft material that true leafmold invariably becomes.’

Therefore, he recommends gathering leaves now, when they are wet or ready to be dampened ‘with a good soaking before covering them up with the next layer.’

5. Apply the leaf mulch in spring

You can start using your leaf mulch in spring and into summer, applying a 2 to 3in layer to your soil. 

Is it okay to use leaves as mulch?

Using fallen leaves as mulch is an eco-friendly idea that actually makes gardeners' lives easier, and gardening cheaper. Make the mulch from fall through winter and start using it in spring on flower beds, in your kitchen garden and in containers. 

Is it okay to leave fallen leaves on flower beds?

Leaf mulching can of course occur naturally if you simply rake fallen leaves off your lawn and on to flower beds or into containers. Here, they will compose, returning nutrients to the soil, and providing shelter for wildlife. However, in dry weather they won't decompose well – and in windy weather they are likely to be blown back around the garden. Plus, if you don't control their thickness in spring, they may smother the emerging buds below the soil. 

And for the best tools for the job, we've rounded up current deals below. 

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.