How To Make A Leaf Mould Bin For Healthier Soil

A DIY guide on how to make a leaf mould bin from scratch. Includes instructions, the materials & tools you’ll need, as well as the benefits of leaf mould as a homemade, mulch & soil improver for your garden or vegetable patch.

This page may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying commissions.

One of the things I love about building a sustainable vegetable garden (or allotment in my case) are the DIY projects. Creating something beneficial from scratch can generate a huge sense of achievement. Learning how to make a leaf mould bin was actually my first DIY garden project & below I’ll show you how easy it is to make one yourself.

The project took me a couple of hours to complete & if you can find some wood to re-use (I used bits of an old shed), all it will cost you is fence staples & some chicken, or galvanised, wire. Once up & running, your bin will then start to generate you a free supply of leaf mould, which you can use as a soil enhancer & all round general mulch.

What Is Leaf Mould?

Leaf mould is dark brown, crumbly goodness that’s created from old fallen leaves. Whilst it’s quite low in nutrients, it’s really good at improving soil structure. You can use it in homemade compost, as a mulch, or as a general soil conditioner.

It’s also super easy to make, since it’s largely made by fungal activity & doesn’t require heat to break down, like regular garden compost. So once you’ve built your leaf mould bin – you simply gather up fallen deciduous leaves, add them to your bin, make sure they’re wet & leave them to decompose. 

Materials & Tools You’ll Need

Materials

  • 4 x 1m wooden posts/stakes (I used some old shed beams & cut them to 1m lengths)
  • 4 x 1m planks to support the posts (optional but they do make for a sturdier bin)
  • Bamboo cane (about 1m long)
  • A few nails
  • Fence staples (also called ‘u-nails’)
  • Around 4m of chicken wire or galvanised wire mesh

Tools

  • Hammer 
  • Mallet if you have one (it’s easier to drive the posts in)
  • Wire cutters (I used sharp secateurs)

How To Make A Leaf Mould Bin

Step 1 – Drive the 4 wooden posts into the ground about a metre apart in a square. An ideal spot is one that’s shaded in summer but not too sheltered from the rain (leaf mould needs moisture to decompose). To drive the posts in, I used a hammer (& brute force), as the ground was quite wet – but a mallet will make things easier if you have one.

Use reclaimed or old posts of wood to cut down costs

Step 2 – Use a hammer & nails to attach 4 horizontal planks to the top of the posts as I’ve done in the picture below. You’ll see lots of leaf mould bins without this extra support) – but I found it made my bin much sturdier, as it can get very windy where I live.

Attach horizontal planks of wood to your posts for extra support

Step 3 – Wrap the chicken wire, or galvanised wire mesh, around your wooden frame & secure with fence staples (u-nails). Keep in mind, galvanised mesh will make for a sturdier frame, but it’s less flexible to attach than chicken wire. Leave a few inches gap at the bottom of the wire frame (i.e. don’t extend right to the ground) to allow small wildlife, such as hedgehogs access in & out. Also check there are no sharp pieces of wire sticking out that could harm tiny creatures.

If you want easier access to your leaf mould, you can leave one end of the wire mesh unattached & mould it lengthwise around a bamboo cane (see image below). Doing this creates a kind of ‘door handle’ & allows you to open & close your bin. To secure the ‘door’ simply push the pointed end of the bamboo cane gently into the ground.

Leave one end of your wire unattached & mould it around a bamboo cane, to form a ‘door’

Step 4 – Gather up deciduous leaves and add them to your leaf mould bin, making sure they are thoroughly wet. If it’s dry enough, mowing the leaves will chop them up & help speed up the decomposition process. Depending on how much rain you get where you live (we get a lot!) you may need to water the leaf mould now & again to keep it moist. It won’t create enough fungal activity to break down if the leaves are too dry.

Then simply leave the leaf mould to do its thing. Leaf mould generally takes a good year before it’s ready – leaving it for two will yield an even higher quality mulch. 

Add leaves to your leaf mould bin, wetting them if necessary, to keep them moist

How To Make Leaf Mould In Plastic Sacks

If you don’t have the space to make a leaf mould bin, you can also use a black plastic sack, to get perfectly good results. Use a strong one as I find the flimsy ones tend to tear as soon as you look at them!

Pack moistened leaves into the sack to about three thirds full, tie the sack closed & pierce a few holes in the bottom & sides for aeration – a garden fork works well for this. Shredding the leaves first will also help with decomposition, plus you’ll fit more in. 

Then place the sack in a shady corner out of the way & leave for a year, or two, until you have lovely, dark, crumbly leaf mould.

How To Make Leaf Mould Quickly

One of the things I love about gardening is that it slows me down. A lot about gardening is about waiting – plus it’s one of the few things that can get me truly in the moment – it’s almost meditative. 

But if, like me, you sometimes can’t quite resist the urge to do things faster, there are a few things you can do to speed the leaf mould process up. 

1 – Place your leaf mould bin in a shady spot to help retain moisture. Moist leaves are essential for the decomposition process. Rainwater is often enough, but if the leaves start to dry out, hose them once a month or use a watering can.  Turning your leaf mould every few weeks, with a garden fork, also helps to aerate the leaves & speed up the breakdown process.

2 – Shred the leaves, with a shredder, leaf vac or lawn mower. This produces a larger surface area & helps them rot down quicker. They also take up less space.

3 – Add nitrogen to help speed up the process. One way to do this is to add urine. Yes, I know – it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of ‘tea’. But urine is packed full of nitrogen. Plus it’s free! So if you’re up for it, add a 50:50 parts urine to water ratio to a bottle and pour a few pints onto your leaf mould. You can repeat this process if you like, as you add more layers of leaf mould. 

Nothing is guaranteed with gardening, of course, but these steps can help to create a usable leaf mould in around six months, depending on climate & type of leaves used etc.

How To Use Leaf Mould

Learning how to make a leaf mould bin reaps many benefits. The bins themselves are easy & inexpensive to make & once up & running, will generate you a consistent, free supply of leaf mould each year. There’s also something rather thrilling about nurturing your garden with a material you’ve made yourself.  

Here are some ways you can use your homemade leaf mould:

  • As a soil amendment – leaf mould is an excellent way to improve soil structure & water retention. It’s also a really good general soil conditioner for heavy soil. Simply dig it loosely into beds or vegetable patches.
  • As a general summer mulch around shrubs, trees & vegetables – this helps ward off weeds & keep soil moist. Use in autumn as a top dressing for grass & lawns, or in winter, use it to cover bare soil to help protect against winter rains & nutrient loss. Leaf mould is also a great food source for worms!
  • As a seed or potting compost – well-rotted, quality leaf mould also makes a great addition to homemade potting compost, or even as a stand alone seed sowing compost, if the quality is good enough.

The Best Leaves For Leaf Mould

Deciduous leaves are best for making leaf mould, as they break down quicker

Deciduous leaves are best for making leaf mould. Specifically, leaves that are low in a substance called lignin & high in nitrogen & calcium will break down quicker. According to Gardener’s World, this includes include ash, beech, cherry, elm, hornbeam, lime, oak, poplar & willow leaves. Using these types of leaves can often generate leaf mould in around a year.

Trees with large, tougher leaves, such as horse chestnut, walnut & sycamore, contain higher levels of lignin & will break down slower – shred or chop them up to help them break down.

Evergreen leaves, on the other hand, have a waxy coating called cutin & can stick together. Whilst technically, you can use them to make leaf mould they will take a lot longer to break down & are best shredded first.

If you have acid loving plants, however, it can be worth gathering pine needles & adding them to a separate, smaller bin, or bag, as pine needles make a good acidic leaf mould.

Otherwise, due to their tough, waxy coating, conifer leaves & needles are best avoided in leaf mould, as they take a lot longer to break down – up to 2 or 3 years.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *