October days are often glorious with many deciduous trees and shrubs providing a riot of colour. However when the leaves fall from trees and shrubs, clearing them up can seem like an endless task. Don’t look at this as pointless as recycling fallen leaves is the easiest way to make free garden compost known as leaf mould. Most leaves can be turned into leaf mould, but some take longer to compost than others. Oak, alder and hornbeam will soon rot down, while sycamore, beech, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut take longer. Leaves from evergreen plants can take three years to compost and are best added in small quantities. Pine needles should be collected in a separate heap as they slowly rot down to produce an acid leaf mould that can be used for plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas and heathers. Walnut, eucalyptus, camphor laurel and cherry laurel contain substances that inhibit growth so leaves from these plants should be avoided. Also avoid collecting leaves from the side of the road as these would have been exposed to pollutants. Do not collect any infected leaves (e.g. Rose Black Spot) these should be cleared away from the plant and destroyed to prevent the infection spreading. Leave behind any fallen leaves that are under hedges and out of the way area’s as these provide an ideal home for hedgehogs and other wildlife.
One area that leaves must be removed from is the lawn. Rain turns leaves into dense, soggy mats that kill grass by blocking sunlight, reducing air circulation and encouraging pests and disease. Rather than using a rake the best method of clearing leaves off the lawn is to run over them with a lawn mower. This will help to shred the leaves and accelerates decomposition. All that’s needed to store the leaves is a bin liner. Simply punch a few holes into the sides and bottom of the bag and fill with the collected leaves. Once the bag is three quarters full sprinkle the leaves with water, shake the bag to evenly disperse the water and then tie the top of the bag. Store the bag in a shady spot. The following autumn the leaves should have rotted down into a rich crumbly mixture that can be used as mulch around the base of plants. Leave the leaves in the bag for two years and it will rot to a fine compost suitable for seed sowing.
It’s also time to start thinking about protecting plants from frost (if by the time this article is published there hasn’t already been one). As temperatures start to drop at night move tender plants indoors. Although they are tender, leave Dahlias & Cannas outside until the first frosts. Once a frost has hit the leaves of these tubers will blacken and die back, at this point cut the foliage back hard and either lift the tubers and store in trays of dry compost in a frost free area or leave the tuber in the ground and cover with a thick layer of mulch.
Herbaceous perennials will now naturally die down leaving behind dead foliage. Don’t be tempted to cut down all annuals and perennials as some benefit from frost protection of the dead foliage and some seed heads provide food for birds. It’s easy to grow your own bird food, and by choosing the right combination of plants you can help a wide variety of garden birds, whilst saving money on purchased blends. Teasels and ornamental thistles are perfect for goldfinches, providing an alternative to nyjer seed imported from India or Africa. Frost covered seed heads also add interest to the garden in winter.
As the nights are drawing in garden lighting is a great way to extend the use of your garden beyond daylight hours. Lighting the patio, garden features or specimen plants the garden a whole new dimension, allowing the garden to become a feature at night. When choosing lighting consider the effect on wildlife, night-flying moths navigate by light sources such as the moon and become disorientated by artificial light, bats and owls are also distracted by bright lights. Choose low intensity lights, such as Solar-powered lights, which emit a dim light that is unlikely to affect wildlife.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk