Because composting materials are all around you, learning how to compost leaves is simple. The composting process involves using organic material to create a natural fertilizer for improving your garden soil quality. The organic matter that makes up compost piles includes food scraps, fallen leaf debris, grass clippings, and small twigs.
Composting is often the solution homeowners turn to when looking for ways to improve their green thumb; however, the benefits of composting go beyond the garden. Because the best compost material comes from nature, composting leaf debris is a straightforward way to recycle yard waste.
Another method of composting fallen leaves allows you to create leaf mulch or leaf mould for landscaping. When you fill your compost bin with suitable materials and tend it to ensure proper decomposition, the advantages are endlessly rewarding for any garden bed treated with homemade organic fertilizer. Continue reading for tips on using autumn leaves to create compost and leaf mold.
Can You Compost Leaves?
Can leaves be composted? Yes, but there is more to leaf composting than using any leaf in your yard. Making leaf compost that helps your garden means avoiding diseased leaves and understanding the balance of natural materials to make “black gold” by springtime.
How to Compost Leaves
Can you compost leaves without a compost bin? Although many gardeners use a bin, the process of composting leaves doesn’t require any particular container, and it’s possible to achieve the same result by composting in a contained pile in your yard. Compost your leaves in a tumbler, bin, or pile to enjoy finished compost as natural fertilizer for your plants.
The science behind making compost from leaves involves allowing shredded leaves and other organic matter in a pile to decompose naturally. To ensure your pile decomposes properly, turn over your compost regularly to add oxygen for the microbes that aid decomposition.
Warmth is another crucial element for composting leaves. As you create a compost pile or put leaves and shredded paper in your compost, the inside of the pile becomes warm from the process of decomposition, and to keep the process going, compost piles need to remain moist and at least 60°F.
Properly maintained compost piles reach at least 120°F, which is warm enough to quickly decompose organic material and kill any weed seeds from annual weeds included in the pile.
How long does it take to compost leaves? Dried leaves take up to a year to break down. Speed up the composting process by mixing dead leaves with a nitrogen source like grass clippings. With the right material and maintenance, you could have a finished compost pile in a few months.
Tips for Composting Leaves
Before you put leaves in compost piles, consider the balance of nutrients in your compost. Compost piles thrive when balanced between green and brown material. Certain food waste is also good for composting and adds less to the landfill. Banana peels can be composted just like twigs and grass. Adding leaves to your compost adds carbon to the mound, and green materials add nitrogen to offset the carbon.
If someone in your household is a coffee drinker, take advantage of the leftover grounds. Adding coffee grounds to soil and compost is a great idea. With the correct types of leaves and a balance of nutrients, it won’t take long before your compost works to benefit your garden, but using diseased leaves disrupts the process. Although infected leaves break down over time, it takes a higher temperature to kill any pathogens in your compost effectively.
Because gardeners tend to create leaf compost piles in November before the winter freeze, maintaining high temperatures is not always possible.
In addition to avoiding leaves with visible signs of disease or infection, certain leaves work best for composting. The best composting materials are leaves high in calcium and nitrogen and low amounts of lignin, a compound that helps plants transport water and resist stressors.
Leaves from ash, maple, willow, and fruit trees are all ideal to use in compost piles while avoiding oak leaves. Although oak leaves eventually break down, they take longer than most leaves. Oak leaves are tough and retain their robust nature after falling to the ground.
Creating a Leaf Compost Pile
To start a compost of dried leaves, shred leaves using the lawn mower with a bag attachment to gather the shredded leaves. Add brown materials to the compost bin or pile the leaves in the corner of your yard a considerable distance from your home.
Layer your leaves with green materials like grass clippings, manure from non-meat-eating farm animals, or food scraps. Continue to build the pile to a ratio of four parts brown material to one part green material. If you create a pile outside a bin, layer the pile until it is at least three feet tall and equally wide.
Use a shovel to turn the compost once a month to allow air into the pile and distribute moisture inside evenly. If your compost pile is not in an insulated area, avoid turning the heap during the winter months to allow the compost to maintain its temperature.
When turning the compost pile, add water to moisten the compost without making it soggy. If the compost is excessively wet or has a rotten smell, include more dry ingredients like additional leaves.
The compost is ready once it is dark in color, smells earthy, and feels crumbly. Use it as organic fertilizer for vegetables and flowers as well as your lawn. To speed the decomposition of your compost, regularly turn the compost pile over.
Not paying attention to the moisture of your compost and failing to turn the heap may take from six months to a year for your compost heap to be ready for the garden.
Finished compost in the garden helps build soil structure and retain water. Over time, amending sandy soil with compost helps increase the pH of acidic soil.
Note that you can also make a leaf based compost tea for lawns. After your compost is ready to use, add some to water in a bucket to make “tea.” Let it sit, drain the compost out, and use the liquid on your plants as natural fertilizer.
Making Leaf Mold
Both leaf-based compost and leaf mold add many nutrients to your garden soil. Leaf mold works well as a natural mulch to help your soil retain moisture and prevent unwanted weeds from sprouting in the garden.
Shred dead leaves with a lawn mower and collect them in a garbage bag. Use a watering can to water the leaves until they are damp. Seal the garbage bag and slice a few slits into the bag to allow airflow. After sealing the bag, poke a few holes in the bottom of the bag to allow drainage to avoid your leaf mold becoming too soggy inside.
As your leaf mold sits, shake the bag once every few weeks to turn the pile. Check the bag for moisture at least every two months, adding water if the leaves are too dry. Adding water to your compost pile is essential because dry leaves take a long time to decompose since leaves decompose from fungus instead of bacteria.
After approximately six months, or once the leaves are dark and crumbly, the leaf mold is ready to use. When ready, layer two to three inches of leaf mold on top of the soil in your vegetable garden. Leaf mold works well when used in containers due to its ability to help the soil retain water.
So, can you compost leaves? With patience and careful monitoring, you’ll find more to fall leaves than creating leaf piles or allowing them to decompose on your lawn. Recycling leaves around your home is the perfect way to clean up your yard while making a homemade organic fertilizer for the vegetable garden.
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