How to Turn Your Autumn Leaves into Free Garden Compost
Updated: Mar 1
Autumn is such a beautiful time of year with all the gorgeous red, orange, and yellow fall colors as the leaves change. But eventually, those leaves turn brown and fall, leaving homeowners with a big mess to clean up. Many of these leaves are bagged up and disposed of by your city’s waste management system. But that’s a real shame because they could be turned into beautiful and free compost for your garden!
Savvy gardeners take advantage of this free composting material each year, and it’s a great way to keep all those leaves out of the landfill! Not only are leaves abundant, but they are also full of trace minerals that are wonderful for your plants. The process is fairly simple, too. Basically, you put them in a pile in the fall, turn the pile once or twice over the winter, and by spring your leaves are turned into free garden compost.
Here’s a detailed look at how the process works.
Start by Choosing the Right Leaves
Of course, any type of leaf will compost over time, but there are some types of leaves that shouldn’t be used for garden compost. For example, black walnut and eucalyptus leaves should never be applied to the garden because they contain a natural herbicide that’s harmful to your plants and stops seeds from germinating. Oak leaves aren’t a great choice either because they break down very slowly and create a compost that’s too acidic for most plants.
What you’re looking for are leaves that contain lots of nitrogen and calcium, but not much lignin, because they will break down quickly and create fantastic garden compost. Your best options are leaves from fruit trees, willow trees, poplar, ash, elm, and maple. If possible, include a good mix of leaf colors in your pile too, including red, orange, and yellow, but also brown for carbon and some green for nitrogen.
Shred Your Leaves
Once you’ve gathered a good mix of leaves, you’ll need to shred them before adding them to your compost pile. If you don’t, they will take a very long time to break down because the large leaves won’t allow oxygen to penetrate the pile. Shredding them first will shorten their decomposition time by months.
A stand-alone leaf shredder will certainly be the most efficient way to accomplish this, but there are other options. You could purchase a leaf blower that has a shredder option. Or, you could rake the leaves into a row and go over them a few times with your lawn mower. No matter which method you choose, be sure to wear work gloves and eye protection for safety.
Pile Them Up and Help Them Break Down
Once your leaves are shredded, it’s time to pile them up. Your pile should be no bigger than four feet across and four feet tall. Remember that oxygen is key for the decomposition process. The pile should be turned every few weeks through the winter, if possible, to allow for good airflow.
Some moisture is good for composting, but you don’t want your pile to stay too wet. If you’re getting a lot of rain, you may want to consider covering your pile with a tarp or sheet plastic to keep it drier. With these simple maintenance steps, you should have beautiful, rich compost by spring.
When spring comes, you can apply your leaf compost as a mulch to provide nutrition to your existing plants or turn it into your garden beds to give your flowers and veggies a boost. This is such an easy way to compost autumn leaves and all it will cost you is some elbow grease. Not only that, but it’s also a great way to look after the environment.
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