Tag Archives: autumn leaves

Leaf mould – make the most of the autumn leaves bonanza!

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 26 October 2016.

Most autumn leaves falling on your lawn, path or road this week can create fantastic leaf mould for use as garden compost. Think of the dark, soft earth under trees and in woodland walks – and make your own! Instead of sending leaves to refuse collections, make a leaf store that will produce leaf mould for your garden. And clearing leaves helps reduce the hiding places for pests and diseases, and keeps the place looking tidy. Clearing leaves is, for me,  THE autumn garden job – just bring on the sunshine !

leaf mould
Beech leaves make great compost. Sarah Buchanan

Make a leaf store to create leaf mould for garden compost

The easy way: fill large plastic sacks with leaves, tie the tops and pierce the bottom with a garden fork and stack them out of sight.

The not too hard way: make a ‘frame’ from chicken wire or any large gauge wire fencing. It is simple to do: bend the wire into a  shape about 1 metre square (or a circle), just using the height of the wire you are using (about 1 metre high is fine)  from chicken wire or any large gauge wire; then push strong bamboo canes or sticks into the shape to hold it upright and firm. Then simply fill it with leaves. Squash them down during the first few months (jumping on them is my favourite method).

Leave your leaf store for two years. After that the leaf mould produced will be a fantastic soil improver. Be patient – it is well worth the wait.

Collect your leaves!

You will need:

  • gloves (leaves are tougher on your hands than you might think)
  • a ‘spring rake’ (those rakes with very wide heads that wobble when you press on them)
  • two ‘leaf boards’: make them yourself by using two pieces of stiff cardboard, plywood or plastic, each about 45 x 30cm. One in each hand makes it easy to scoop the leaves up and move them
  • a wheelbarrow or black bags
  • some people use leaf blowers to gather the leaves together but unless you have a lot of leaves its hardly worth it – and raking leaves is good exercise for you!

Collect leaves from garden lawns, paths, drives, household gutters and all those places where leaves collect. If you live on a tree lined road don’t be shy about collecting leaves from the pavements – everyone will think you are doing a grand job to stop them slipping when it rains. But collecting leaves from busy roadsides is not a good idea – its noisy for you and the leaves will be affected by car fumes.

Ideally collect leaves when they are dry and on a dry when there is no wind. If it is windy, rake the leaves  in the direction of the wind and collect piles of leaves as you go.

garden leaves
Leaves raked in a garden. Dan4th Nicholas licensed for reuse under Creative Commons attribution 2.0 generic.


When you mow the lawn, mow the leaves too and add all the cuttings to your leaf store.

BEWARE! Some leaves are not as good in leaf compost as others because they take a long time to rot.

Read the excellent RHS guide on leaf compost to find out which leaves are best to collect, how to store them and the benefits of leaf collection.



Autumn rains! Be prepared in the garden (1)

First published by Rattan Direct on 5 October 2016.

Autumn rains and gales mean it makes sense to clear drainpipes and guttering. We want water directed into the drains and not coming into the house. It’s garden hygiene time: clear up leaves, moss and other bits and pieces, and clean out the water butt.

Silver birch, Conwy. Autumn rains
Silver birch, Conwy, October 2015
M K Stone

Autumn rains

Autumn rains have been upon us already. And they will be again. That’s nothing unusual as there are always strong gales and rains around the equinox (22 September 2016) as many a sea shanty will tell you.

Water can do a lot of damage in the wrong place so it’s clearly time to check all outside water pipes and fittings. And vegetation broken free from its moorings and resting out of place will rot over the next few months, and form a black sludge in the corner of your patio or at the bottom of your pond. Clean it up and out, and do the water butt too.

Clear the debris

By ‘the debris’ I mean things like:

  • Lumps of moss on the roof and in the gutters. (There are two schools of thought about composting moss. I am of the ‘do not do this at home’ school and I put it in the bin for the council to compost at high temperatures.)
  • Leaves and other bits and pieces in the garden which will harbour pests (like snail eggs, for example) and diseases through the winter unless you clear them up.
  • Creeping tendrils of Clematis montana, long gone from the neighbour’s garden but somehow still making an appearance in the gutters and under the slates.
Clematis at the Grange, near Heythrop, Oxfordshire. Autumn rains
Clematis at the Grange, near Heythrop, Oxfordshire
© Michael Dibb and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0

Clean out your water butt

Autumn is the best time to clean out your water butt. Scrub it clean with soap and water, rinse and then refill it or let it refill from the downpipe. Make sure it has a light-proof cover which will suppress any green algae. Clean water is essential for seedlings (but less important for well established plants).

Clear debris out of your pond too. And put a net over it to stop leaves getting in.

Check gutters and downpipes

Check the gutters for any obstructions. Clumps of grass or young buddleia are possible culprits, along with leaves and moss which we talked about earlier.

Check whether the downpipes or their hoppers are clogged up.

Railway bridge, Penge High Street: vegetation growing in the hopper rainhead. Autumn rains
Railway bridge, Penge High Street: vegetation growing in the hopper rainhead
© Christopher Hilton and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0

Check they haven’t come adrift from their fixings on the wall and that their joints are sound.

I know that, here, animals use the joint where one downpipe runs into another pipe as a stepping stone, and it regularly comes loose. After I finish writing this, I plan to wrestle the joint back into position, drill a hole and keep it together with a small screw.

It’s worth it

A few checks and a bit of work will pay off. Autumn rains can be heavy and persistent, as most of us have found out already this year.


Autumn colours to add to your garden

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 2 October 2016.

Woods, gardens and parks are changing from shades of green to autumn colours of rich red, yellow and bronze. They are breathtaking. Last week the Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time panel were asked which plant, shrub or tree they most look forward to seeing in their autumn colour. Interesting answers set me thinking about which tree or shrub I would plant to give my garden the WOW factor of fantastic autumn colours.

Why do green leaves change colour?

A substance called chlorophyll in leaves makes them green (and able to absorb energy from the sun). Less sunlight and cooler days break the chlorophyll down and this reveals other colourful pigments: autumn colours are here. This BBC Weather post goes further and explains more – watch it now and impress your children!

I like this Forestry Commission description of how and why green leaves turn red and orange – it is a must see, and colourful too!

So which tree will create autumn colours in my garden for years to come?

A small tree will grace most gardens, so my first choice is a Japanese maple. Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ and ‘sango-kaku’ (or the coral bark maple) are my favourites. But Acer japonicum varieties are a good choice because they are less fussy than Acer palmatum varieties. All Acers prefer soils that are acid, and trees in sheltered spots and light shade offer the best leaf colours. Mine will be planted in a sheltered corner in view of my kitchen window. And because these trees grow well in pots, read our blog and plant one in a pot in the corner of a patio. Roll on next autumn!.

autumn colours
The leaf colour of this Japanese maple is beginning to change. Tomorrow it will be red! Sarah Buchanan

At the end of the garden a ‘spindle tree’, properly called Euonymous europaeus, would be an easy addition. In summer it is not impressive, but in autumn the leaves turn to fire and the berries are stunning. The wood of this tree is said to have been used to make spindles, and I am told that it is the tree on which Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger (not a rose thorn at all). It is not hard to make the link, for every part of this little tree is poisonous if eaten. It is a stunning autumn shrub or small tree and the flame red leaves and berries would enhance many gardens.


autumn colours
The poisonous but pretty spindle tree berries are a must for autumn colour. Sarah Buchanan


If I had room for a larger tree I would go for Cercidiphyllum japonicum (or Katsura tree). This lovely tree offers wonderful autumn colours of yellow, pink, orange and red and as a bonus fills the garden with the scent of burnt sugar and toffee apples! It does best in some shelter and shade.

Gardeners with lots of space could plant a Liquidambar styraciflua (the ‘sweet gum’ tree) in any of its varieties. It has maple-shaped leaves which in autumn are fantastic oranges and reds. Top tip on this tree is to buy it in the autumn when you can see the leaf colour.

If you are tempted, but not sure what to plant, go out and enjoy autumn colours near you and find trees and shrubs that you like, and which will like your garden. This lovely BBC video of autumn leaves will inspire you to go for a walk in the woods, parks or gardens near you every weekend until the leaves fall. Take the kids! The Forestry Commission website has great ideas for things to do to make the most of autumn, and offers an online activity pack for children. Sign up now!

And if you’re looking for autumn colours, this Daily Telegraph must see list might help.

It is just too good to stay indoors. I might see you out there somewhere …