10 Tips for Composting Your Leaves This Fall
Put your fallen leaves to work in a compost pile.
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Benefits of Composting Leaves
There are many benefits to composting leaves. One, you will help reduce the amount of yard waste that ends up in landfills. Two, composting creates nutrient-rich soil that will make for better growing gardens and other spots in your yard. Three, it allows you to reduce your waste at home because you can throw food waste into a compost pile. Remember to not add any dairy products, breads or meat to your compost pile.
How to Compost Leaves
Shred leaves and mix with glass clippings or another source with a high level of nitrogen. Once you start mixing in your leaves make sure you start slowly and continue to stir the pile.
Be sure to make the pile high because the leaves will provide insulation during the winter months. Leaves will typically add to the acidity of soil so it's important to test it in the spring and adjust the pH level before adding the soil to your garden.
Adding kitchen waste like coffee grounds will help boost the nitrogen levels of your compost but be sure to keep a balance between that and your carbon items like leaves. Try to maintain a 5-to-1 ratio of leaves to grass clippings/nitrogen source.
Use an Electric Leaf Mulcher
The WORX WG430 13-amp Electric Leaf Mulcher is basically a big hopper with a string trimmer at the bottom. Leaves go in the top; mulch comes out the bottom. Leaf mulch is perfect for aerating garden soil, surrounding trees or adding to a compost pile. WORX claims its mulcher reduces a pile of leaves at an 11:1 ratio. We didn’t conduct a scientific measure but were impressed by how such a large pile of leaves could fit in one bag. The Mulcher consumed its leafy dinner almost as fast as we could feed it. Some debris does fly around, so wear ear and eye protection. And you’ll get better results with dry leaves. The unit breaks down for easy storage. The WORX Mulcher is available at home centers, discount stores and online for about $115. These 10 products make fall lawn work a breeze.
Where to Compost Leaves
If you choose to create a pile, be sure to find a place that only receives partial sunlight. Too much sunlight will dry the pile out and inhibit decay. Be sure to pick a spot that has good drainage because excess moisture will drain into the ground. Don't place a compost pile near concrete, cement or asphalt.
Maintaining a Compost Pile
Remember to stir your compost every two weeks with a shovel or a pitchfork. If possible, add water once a week to keep the pile moist. Learn these winter composting tips so you can keep your compost going through the colder months.
Composting Leaves Problems
Leaves tend to mat if they're just tossed in a compost bin without getting mulched. If they're matted, they prevent air and water from moving below the layer of leaves.
Leaves Can Take a Long Time to Break Down
Leaves that have lower lignin levels and higher calcium and nitrogen break down in about a year. Ash, cherry, elm, linden, maple, poplar and willow leaves are in this category.
Leaves that take longer to decompose include beech, birch, hornbeam, oak and sweet chestnut. Those leaves will typically take two or more years to decompose. Oak leaves and others in this group should make up 10 to 20 percent of your pile at most.
A good rule to remember with composting leaves is to know that green leaves can be added in moderate level, red or yellow leaves should be added in small amounts while brown leaves should be avoided. Also, avoid black walnut and eucalyptus leaves.
Avoid wood and leaves from plants such as pine, spruce, juniper and arborvitae. Also, avoid plants that have been treated with weed killers.
Other Leaf Compost Options
Another option for those interested in composting leaves is to keep them separate from your regular compost pile and keep the leaves altogether. The process remains much the same as you should mulch your leaves and place in a pile, bin or plastic bags. You can add water if they're dry. It will take longer for them to compost, around two to three years but it will make a good mulch.
Learn winter composting 101 so you can hit the spring running.