Tag Archives: garden compost

Love your garden by clearing up and using garden compost

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 9 November 2016.

Clear up and use your garden compost to sort out your plants and improve the soil ready for next year. It will make your garden look and feel loved for the winter too. We have given you tips for autumn tidy ups in our previous blogs, and now we are gearing up for winter.

Q: So why clear up now?

A: Well, it is warming work for the gardener, the right time for you to move plants or care for old favourites, and it empties one compost store and creates a new supply of trimmings for another.

But beware: this is a muddy job on a rainy day.

Clear up – tidy garden beds and borders

  • Cut back the yellowing and dying leaves of herbaceous flowering plants and tidy the plant into a good shape with stems cut back to about 15-22 cms (6-9 inches). Leave the stems of taller plants at about 30cm as the old stems will help hold new spring growth in place. Leaving stems above the plant offers some protection against winter winds, frost and snow.
  • Tidy rockery and alpine plants to remove dead or over long growth.
  • Tidy evergreen plants to remove any long and wispy stems which the wind may catch and rock the roots of the plants. If in doubt, read our blog on preparing for wind, and stake wobbly plants in windy spots to keep them and their roots sturdy through the winter.
  • Remove annual veg. plants that have stopped producing veg. for you, weed and dig over where they grew.
  • Weed and tidy around the base of shrubs and trees to keep their bark and any new stems clear of weeds and damp.

What to do with all your trimmings? Head for your garden compost container. Haven’t got one? Read our earlier blog here, make a leaf store to make leaf compost and read more at this specialist site.

And if you have room – please leave an untidy patch, out of the way of footballs and barbecues, where wildlife may shelter.

Use garden compost

How do I know when my garden compost is ready?

When it is what gardeners describe as ‘well rotted’: dark brown, smelling nice and earthy, slightly moist, with a fairly loose and easily crumbled texture.

It won’t look like compost you buy in sacks. Mine always has twigs and eggshells sticking out of it. And it is still perfectly good to use: pull out the larger twigs and any material that hasn’t rotted and put that ready for a new compost heap.

clear up and use garden compost
A cross section of a compost store – the top is dry and not rotted so will join the new compost store, the rest is ready to use, apart from the new leaves arriving on the wind! Sarah Buchanan. November 2016

How do I use garden compost?

Gloves on, use a garden fork to remove any loose plant material (usually on the top: just like my heap in the picture above!) that has not rotted. Put that on your new compost heap or to one side ready for it. Fill a bucket or wheelbarrow with compost and head for your borders.

Around established plants, trees and shrubs, spread a loose layer (10cm or so deep) of compost roughly over the area of the roots. Be sure the compost doesn’t swamp the stems of woody shrubs and trees or it may cause rot.

On bare ground (yes, you removed the weeds before you started on the compost), like the veg patch and where you grew annual flowers, loosen the soil with your fork and spread a layer (10cm or so deep) of garden compost over the surface. If your soil is poor, leave the compost there for worms to work on it and pull it into the soil. On better soils, you can dig about one spade or fork down and turn the soil over the compost. This is great work to warm you up!

clear up and use garden compost
Scatter garden compost between herbaceous perennials. November 2016. Sarah Buchanan

Planting new delights? Mix some of your compost into the soil you dig out and put back in around the new plant, but don’t over-do this in the autumn as compost will hold moisture and if we have a wet winter it may rot young roots.

If you don’t need all the compost your store has created now, put it in old shop bought compost bags and store ready for the spring, when you can spread it around in the way I describe above.

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.