The leaves are turning – and that means it’s time to start making great compost!

The leaves have begun to turn to brilliant shades of red and orange.  Each day – a few more start their gentle decent from high atop branches down to the ground.  For gardeners –it signals that its time to get those compost piles and bins filled up with huge amounts of leaves – and turn them into valuable, plant loving compost!

For us – the falling leaves and resulting compost we make with them are a great way to obtain huge amounts of  “black gold” – the affectionate name many gardeners give to compost for it’s value to a successful garden.   Compost makes all the difference in helping to grow healthy plants – we mix in generous amounts to the soil when we plant our vegetables, as well as anytime we plant trees, shrubs or perennials in the landscape.

Here are 4 simple steps to help you make great leaf compost:

Maple leaves are some of the best to use when making compost

1.  The Gathering Process –  How To Get The Right Kind Of Leaves – And A Lot Of Them!
Although leaves are plentiful this time of year – some are better than others.  Maple, Birch, Ash, Beech and fruit tree leaves are fantastic to compost.

Oak leaves on the other hand should be composted in moderation.  The leaves of Oak trees tend to be more acidic – too many in the compost pile can result in compost that is less than ideal for most vegetable gardens.    A good rule of thumb  –  if Oak leaves make up less than 10 to 20% of your total pile – you should be good to go.

If you are not blessed with trees on your property – take a drive around and find neighborhoods that are – it usually doesn’t take too long to find them.

You don’t have to look far to find leaves piled high at the curbside.

Many times, the hard work is done for you – with the homeowners already raking leaves to their curb or even bagging them up curbside for pickup.  A simple asking of the homeowner can usually net you more than you can handle.

For us – a simple evening drive through our heavily wooded neighborhood can fill the old farm truck up with 50 or so bags of ready to go leaves.  What takes a few minutes to collect will result in healthy plants.

Even better – when you see those landscape companies out collecting – ask what they are doing with their haul – many times they are just taking them somewhere to dump – and will gladly drop them off at your house.  It’s a win-win all the way around!

2.  Shred – Shred – Shred!

A push mower or garden tractor makes a great leaf shredder

Like anything you put into a compost pile – leaves benefit greatly from being shredded first.  Whole leaves won’t compost quickly if left alone on the ground – and especially in piles where they can bind together and become a soggy matted mess.

If you don’t own a shredder  – no worries.  A regular old push mower or riding mower will do a great job of shredding your leaves into a fine chopped mix.  We gather so many that we just pile them up and take care of business with a riding mower.  In about 15 minutes,  we can reduce 25 garbage bags of leaves into a couple wheelbarrow loads of shredded bits.  However you do it – shred those leaves – the finer the better!

Fresh cut green lawn clippings make an excellent source of nitrogen to add your leaf composd pile and get it cooking

3. Add a Nitrogen Source to Your Leaf Compost Pile

A pile of leaves left on their own – even if shredded – can still take over a year to break down.  So to speed up the decomposition process – you need to add a source of Nitrogen to get your pile cooking.

One easy remedy – freshly cut green grass. Fresh cut green grass is a great source of nitrogen and mixes easily with shredded leaves. Chicken, rabbit or horse manure also are great sources to get that pile of leaves heated up and cooking.  If you have no access to grass or manure – you can always purchase a ready-made off the shelf compost activator – but good old natural green grass or manure works perfect for us.

As for how much of each to add –  just use another good rule of thumb – the 5 to 1 ratio.  For every 5 wheelbarrows, buckets or bags of shredded leaves you add to the pile – mix in 1 wheelbarrow, bucket or bag of cut grass clippings or manure.

Just like your regular compost pile – turning your leaf compost pile once or twice a week will help your pile heat up and break down quickly.

4. Keep It Together, Keep it Turned, And Keep It Moist

If you don’t have compost bins or a large enough composting area – make a temporary one in the middle of your garden.  It’s important to keep your pile together to allow it to heat up and decompose.   An inexpensive 3 foot wire fence section, made into a circle. can become a perfect temporary composting bin for the winter time.  The best part  is that your making your compost right where you are going to need it – in your garden!  And while that pile is “cooking” – don’t be afraid to add some of your normal compost pile trimmings to it.  Coffee grounds, fruit peels and scraps and grass clipping can be added while your turning to make your finished compost even better.

Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants…and there is no quicker way to healthy soil than using lots of great compost.

If you want that pile to get heated up and compost even quicker – go out a few times a week and take a shovel or pitchfork and turn your pile.  It doesn’t take great effort – especially with the  light make-up of a leaf compost pile.  However –  turning that pile and mixing in oxygen gets it to heat up and break down quickly.

Last, make sure to keep the pile moist.  You want it to be like the consistency of a damp sponge – if you get too many consecutive dry days – add a little water to your pile to keep it cooking strong.

So there you have it – some simple hints to composting all of those falling leaves.  Now it’s time to get out there and start collecting!

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Happy Gardening! – Jim and Mary


47 thoughts on “Composting Leaves – 4 Simple Tips To Making Great Compost With Leaves

  • March 20, 2016 at 10:54 am

    I have a large family and we produce lots of food scraps. How can these be effectively incorporated into a good composting system?

  • November 20, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Grass clippings are best left on the lawn. The perfect nitrogen source is spent coffee grounds. And use all of the oak leaves you want. You can combat the acidity come spring by throwing a shovel or 2 of wood ash from your fireplace into the pile.

  • October 29, 2015 at 5:02 am

    With large orchard areas or overgrown yards, you might try using a few goats to help clean up the place and composing is done by the goat, so to speak. People do rent them out and you don’t have to feed them. Just be sure all plants are non toxic. Oleander is toxic.

    Although, I heard tell of a goat that ate a great deal of poison in a farm shed and it did not kill the goat. BUT the farmer sold the goat to a Mexican warning him to not eat the goat. The man did not listen. He barbequed the goat anyway and several people got very sick. The poison had been stored in the meat of the goat.

  • October 26, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    So simple. Leaves and grass shredded together with a mulching mower. I don’t use anything else as kitchen scraps create a ‘mouse condo’.

    Hint. Many towns have drop off sites. I cruise these and pick out the mulched bags.

  • September 12, 2015 at 11:43 am

    I would like to do this but very concerned that this will make a great place for my voles and squash bugs to continue there havoc. Thoughts?

    • September 12, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Steve… We are lucky that we don’t have to deal with that here. However, one solution is to raise your compost area up on a fine mesh screen so that the voles can’t burrow in. Once the soil becomes rich the slugs typically stay away and therefore the voles stay away. If you can make hot compost both solutions are solved. Hope this helps!

  • January 15, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Hey Dude . If I shred my leaves and scatter then on the earth then all another layer of earth on top of the leaves . Will that improve the soil.

  • November 29, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    You mentioned using chicken, rabbit or horse manure. Can one use dog or cat poop? Is it effective and safe if it is chemical free?

    • March 17, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Generally, no, cat and dog poop is not safe. Poop from carnivores/omnivores is much more prone to having pathogens in them that are dangerous for people, and plants. E. coli and other things can be a real problem in human, cat, and dog manure. Birds like chickens and turkeys are somewhat different for some reason, even though they are omnivores. Their body temperature is very high, and kills weed seeds. I’m guessing this and other factors make composting them safe, but I also would not use fresh bird manure in the garden. There are ways to compost cat and dog manure effectively and safely, but it requires some research and for the average person with a normal compost system, it’s much more trouble than it’s worth.

  • November 1, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    We live in South Georgia & oaks & pines are what make up the majority of trees around here. I compost them with chicken poop & coffee grounds & the chickens eat all the table scraps. I’m asking is there any thing I can put into the garden to help with the acidity?

  • September 1, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Hi, another great article written to help us grow great gardens! However, as our summer squash winds down & begins to die out…do you recommend putting squash vines on my compost? What about other plants…? I’ve read about the squash vine borer…will it survive the winter in our compost? Thanks for your continued help. HC

  • September 1, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Oak leaf compost is only “too acidic” if your soil is already acidic. If you have clay soil, it is probably alkaline and could use some acidity to grow good peppers, tomatoes, and other vegs.
    Test your soil, and your compost so that you actually know what you are making and how you can improve it.

  • May 1, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I left my maple leaves covering plants over the winter. They are now dried and I would like to either mix them in my garden or into my compost pile. Is it too late to shred them and where should I put them… or compost pile?

    • May 1, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Pat – you can actually do either – and it is more than okay to shred them. Using them to cover plants and then composting them is a great double use!

  • November 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks for these great tips. I have a maple tree and for years thought those leaves were toxic to compost. Can’t wait for fall this year and to a great garden this spring.

  • August 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    We have tons of walnut trees and many pecans in the “lawn” areas. Are these leaves acidic also?

      • January 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm

        Thanks. I knew about juglone but got so bogged down thinking about the acidity. It’s crazy that we have about 5 acres and not much of a place to plant anything. Hubby wants to keep the woods and the lawn with all those nut trees, plus much of it is sloping. So we have to spread our veggie plantings all over

  • July 30, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    I am so glad I found your blog! Excellent post. I had no idea oak leaves were acidic, they make up the majority of my compost I started for my garden next spring. Thank you for the percentages. Now I have plenty of time to fix my compost before I use it. Thank You!

  • November 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Use a garbage bin and a weed wacker to brake down the leaves. Works perfect.

  • October 9, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Great ideas! We use lots of leaves also. We usually dump them in the chicken yard and let the hens scratch through them and break them up. Along with their droppings, it breaks down into a nice soil.

    • October 9, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      That’s a great way to use them as well! I like letting the chickens do a little of the work 🙂

  • October 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Hi Mary, I’m Anne from Life on the Funny Farm ( visiting from the Natural Living Mamma blog hop.

    Great tips on a leaf compost pile! I always forget to add the in!

    Anyway, it’s nice to “meet” you. I hope you can pop over to my blog and say hi sometime if you get the chance.

  • October 8, 2012 at 5:38 am

    Great tips! My mom has maple trees that surround her house…actually they are on our entire street, and all the leaves blow down into her very very large yard. We spend a lot of time raking in the fall 🙂

  • October 7, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    This is a fantastic write up on composting! I cant wait to get our pile going. We just moved into this house a month ago. Do your piles cook well in the winter?

    Also, I would love it if you would share this on Natural Living Monday too! I am definitely pinning this. Thanks!

  • October 6, 2012 at 9:58 am

    This is our 2nd attempt at a compost pile. Your clear instructions should get us off on the right foot this time. Great post!

  • October 6, 2012 at 9:47 am

    We do so much composting with leaves and if we don’t have enough we grab them off the side of the road around this time of year. Great post this is something that I don’t even people realize is how much you can do with your garden with leaves and I my husband follows a similar process to you. Have a great Saturday!

  • October 5, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    This is a great post. I have more leaves than I know what to do with…

    Unfortunately, my leaves raked up are a big pile of pine needles, oak leaves and branch debris so it’s hard to use them for composting. I always try to throw some leaves into my compost though. It’s good to know the percentage of the oak leaves!

  • October 5, 2012 at 6:38 am

    Fabulous post! I’ll be thinking of this information when I’m raking this season. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing at Rural Thursdays.

  • October 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Oh my goodness, I wish I would have read this years ago. We use about 25 bags of leaves a season too, and we could have been shredding them first. THAT’s what we’ll be doing this year! Thx for the tip.

  • October 4, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I have sweetgum, coralbark maple and birch leaves. I don’t have a shredder nor lawn mower (no lawn), so do what I can with what I have. What works for me is to either bag leaves, mixed with alfalfa meal or pellets, puncture the bags and leave near my compost bin or put them in tomato cages with some alfalfa meal. In spring, I have some fairly nice compost.

    Yael from Home Garden Diggers

  • October 4, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Oh very good advice that I already use. Love your photos. B

  • October 4, 2012 at 8:59 am

    creative and informative post ~ (A Creative Harbor)

  • October 2, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    How about leaves from a Fruitless Mulberry?

  • October 2, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Are magnolia leaves of any benifit?

    • October 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      You can compost them. The waxy leaves are harder to break down so you definitely want to shred them good before putting them in your compost pile to break down faster.

  • October 2, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Thank you for this one–I have oak leaves and knew they were acidic but glad to have a reference on %.

    • October 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      No problem at all! Glad you stopped by and we love keeping up on your blog – you do a great job!

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