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How To Compost Leaves – The 4 Keys To Success

If you are looking for a great way to make use of all of those falling leaves, creating a leaf-filled compost pile needs to be at the top of your list!

And it really is easier than you might think!

Composting leaves successfully boils down to four simple steps. And by simply following them this fall, you will be rewarded next year with rich and fertile compost to power your flowers and vegetable plants to new heights!

Let’s take a look at just how easy it is to turn Autumn’s colorful treasures into black gold.

Check out our Podcast on How To Make Great Compost!

The 4 Keys To Composting Leaves

#1 Select The Best Leaves For Composting

The first rule of leaf composting is to know that some varieties of leaves are better than others. Especially when it comes to fast, efficient composting.

Maple, birch, ash, beech, cherry, and all varieties of fruit and nut trees are the best choices of all. Not only do they decompose quickly, they are balanced in the nutrients they provide to a compost pile.

maple tree
Maple leaves are among the best leaves to compost of all. They break down quickly, and are balanced in their nutrient make-up.

Although they will eventually compost, waxy, tough leaves from trees such as magnolia and ginkgo can take years to break down. For this reason, they are best left out of traditional compost piles.

And what about oak leaves? They can certainly be composted, but do to their acidic nature, should be done so in moderation.

The leaves of oak trees are more acidic than leaves from other trees. And too many in a pile can result in finished compost that is less than ideal for vegetable plants and flowers.

Waxy leaves like these magnolias can take a long time to decompose. For fast composting, leave these and other waxy, tough leaves out of the pile.

Keep fall compost piles to no more than 20% oak leaves to keep the acidity in check.

#2 Shred Those Leaves!

If you want to make good compost from leaves fast, then shredding is a must!

Whole leaves take FOREVER to decompose. Shredded leaves on the other hand, break down quickly in a compost pile.

Not only does shredding create smaller pieces to compost, it tears multiple edges of the leaf fragments, causing them to deteriorate even faster.


Shredding can be accomplished easily with a leaf shredder or with a push or riding mower.

Simply lay out the leaves in a row and mow over them. If your push mower happens to have a bagging attachment, even better!

Once shredded, add them to a compost bin, or ring them with a section of fencing or chicken wire. Keeping a pile contained helps hold them in place for faster composting. See : DIY Compost Bins Plans

#3 Add A Source Of Nitrogen To Help Compost Leaves

Although a pile of pure leaves will eventually break down, it breaks down much faster if it includes a source of nitrogen.

Nitrogen helps heat a pile up and aids in breaking down dry, carbon-based materials such as leaves.

A good compost pile is made up of a 4 parts of brown (dry materials), and 1 part “green” or active materials. Dry materials of course are the leaves. And they are balanced by the greens to get the pile cooking.

chicken manure
When it comes to composting leaves, nothing will help speed up the decomposition process like a little chicken manure.

Greens include fresh vegetable scraps, eggs shells, coffee grounds, fresh green grass clippings, and the best of all – manure! You can also use an organic compost starter to heat up the pile as well. (Affiliate Product Link : Dr Earth Compost Starter)

Chicken, cow, horse and rabbit manure are incredible to add to a fall leaf compost pile. They heat the pile quickly and break dry materials down with ease.

As a side note, avoid cat or dog manure completely. These sources of manure have too many possibilities for contamination.

#4 Add Oxygen To The Mix

In addition to a source of nitrogen, a good compost pile needs oxygen to fuel the fire.

And oxygen is added easily by simply turning and mixing your piles ingredients on a regular basis!

how to turn leaves into compost
With a little air, water and nitrogen, leaves like this can quickly turn into black gold compost.

At minimum, turn your pile every week as the weather allows. Every few days is even better. This keeps oxygen in the core, and keeps the pile heated, even as temperatures drop. 

In addition, if the pile is a bit dry, moisten it with a little water. A well-built compost pile should be the consistency of a well-wrung wet sponge. If it gets any drier than that, it slows the decomposition process.

Winter Care

Most piles will finally freeze at some point in the winter. But as temperatures allow, turn whenever possible. As early spring brings warmth back to the pile, continue turning at regular intervals.

how to make compost from leaves
Winter’s cold will bring the pile’s decomposition to a halt. But as soon as early spring brings warmer temps, keep turning that pile!

If properly managed, most leaf compost piles can produce finished compost that is ready to go by early summer.

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