Looking for how to quickly turn all of those falling leaves into incredible compost to power your garden, flowerbeds and more next year?
When it comes to building great soil and powering plants, compost is the ultimate answer. It helps build soil structure, feed plants with its easy to absorb nutrients, and aids in retaining valuable moisture to the roots of your flowers and vegetable plants as they grow.
In fact, that is exactly why it is commonly referred to as Black Gold among avid gardeners. It’s simply that valuable when it comes to growing bigger and better! But one thing is for sure, you can never seem to have enough of it on hand. Especially early in the growing season when planting is at a frantic pace.
But luckily, by utilizing Autumn’s sensational bounty of falling leaves now, you can make more than enough compost for all of your plants next spring and summer. Even better, you can do it faster than ever by following a few tried and true methods that will have your pile cooking down quickly.
With that in mind, here is a look at how to turn an overabundance of leaves into the best soil amendment ever – amazing, all-natural compost!
How To Make Incredible Compost From Leaves
Select The Best Leaves For Composting
When it comes to making great compost from leaves, it all starts with selecting the best varieties of leaves. As you will see below, some tree’s leaves are not well-suited for compost, while others need to be used in moderation.
At the top of the list of “great leaves” are maple, birch, ash, cherry, cottonwood and fruit trees. All of these are excellent choices to create great compost. Not only do these leaves contain the best nutrients, their leaf structure also happens to break down quickly.
When it comes to the leaves listed above, the more the better. But there are other leaf varieties you will want to limit in your pile’s makeup. At the top of that list are the leaves of oak trees.
You can use oak leaves in moderation, but since they lean toward the acidic side, they can throw a pile’s PH level off. In addition, oak leaves are among the lowest in nitrogen and other trace nutrients, so they simply do not provide as much energy to the finished compost.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use oak leaves in your pile, but it is best to keep the ratio of oak leaves to others at 20 percent or below. At this ratio, the PH of your compost will still be perfect for using for vegetables and flowers.
Tree Leaves To Avoid Composting – How To Compost Leaves Fast
There are a few tree’s leaves to avoid all together when it comes to composting. Walnut, eucalyptus and horse chestnut (buckeye) leaves should be completely left out of a pile. The leaves from walnut and eucalyptus contain toxins that can harm plants. They can also prevent some seed crops from germinating.
As for the horse chestnut and its close relative the Buckeye tree, they can produce a toxin that can be harmful to humans and animals if in high enough doses. Although the toxin is concentrated in the nuts of these trees, it can be hard to separate out when collecting. It’s simply best to leave them out of the pile to be safe.
Shred Those Leaves – The Key To Fast Compost!
So now that you know the best leaves to use, it’s all about building a leaf-filled compost pile that will decompose as fast as possible. And to do that, it all starts with shredding.
Whole leaves can take years to fully break down. Not only do they mat down and become soggy, whole leaves also prevent airflow and oxygen, which is a vital ingredient in heating up a compost pile. And that is exactly why shredding your leaves before building your compost pile is critical!
A whole leaf has one edge line around its entire perimeter. But by shredding the leaves, you create hundreds of smaller edges that can break down fast. It is a simple formula: the smaller the leaves are shredded, the faster they will decompose.
A push mower or riding mower can quickly accomplish this task with ease. We use our push mower and bag attachment to shred huge piles of leaves quickly every fall. It’s easy to do, and makes quick work of the task.
There are also a wide range of electric and gas leaf shredders now on the market that do an excellent job of shredding leaves. The electric models are surprisingly sturdy and efficient, and can be found at a far lower cost than gas models. Product Link: WORX Electric Leaf Shredder
Building Your Pile For Success – How To Compost Leaves Fast
Unlike a typical compost pile that you create and continue adding to as materials become available, a leaf pile can be made up all at once. This is important for the speed of composting as it can start to decompose all of its ingredients and not have to break down additional “new materials” later.
Unfortunately, a pile made from just leaves will still take a long time to decompose. Even when they are shredded. That is exactly why adding a few more ingredients when you build your pile can be a huge key to success.
For a compost pile to decompose quickly, it needs to have a good mix of brown and green materials. In fact, a ratio of 3 to 4 parts brown to one part green is ideal for heating a pile up fast. In this case, the leaves are a lot of brown, so adding in some green is vital. See: How To Make A Compost Pile Get Hot!
Getting The Right Mix
It just so happens that green grass clippings are one of the best green materials of all. And they can usually be created pretty quickly in the fall with a simple mowing to add to your pile. Even better, they are already chopped up too!
Other great green materials are animal manure (chickens, rabbit, horse, cow), coffee grounds and food scraps. All of these heat up a pile, and also break down quickly – making them perfect additions.
But there is one more vital ingredient to add as well that is the most important of all – and that is fresh compost or a compost starter. Why? because they instantly introduce all of the beneficial microbes and organisms that are key to breaking down materials.
If you have a bit of compost from your compost pile left over, toss it in and mix it in with the leaves. If you don’t, purchase an inexpensive bag of compost starter to add in. Without those microbes present at the beginning, it can take a long time for your pile to create its own! Product Link : Compost Starter
Creating The Pile – How To Compost Leaves Fast
You will want to build your compost pile to be at least 3′ x 3′ x 3′. This size allows for the pile to have enough mass to heat up. More importantly, it is also still manageable enough to turn and work.
In addition to the green grass, manures and any available vegetable scraps, you can add other great ingredients at the start. We usually start by adding a 5 gallon bucket of fresh compost to start our pile. We add to that two to three additional buckets of fresh green grass clippings.
To that, we often throw in the soil/plant mix from a few of our hanging basket and container plants. Since it is the end of the season, these are readily available. We finish by adding in a few 5 gallon buckets of our chicken manure / straw mix from our coop, and any vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, etc. we might have on hand.
From then on until spring, the only ingredient we will add to the leaf pile is our morning coffee grounds. They continue to add an ongoing source of green energy to the pile. They also are already tiny, so they incorporate quickly to the mix.
Turning The Pile
Just like a traditional compost pile, you will need to turn your pile frequently to keep it powered up. Not only will turning your pile a few times each week introduce oxygen, but it also helps to distribute the moisture levels in the pile.
And when it comes to creating a fast working pile, oxygen and water are absolutely vital! Turn your pile a minimum of two times per week up until the pile freezes in cold temperatures. If it gets too dry, add a bit of water to the mix to help it along. As soon as spring temperatures warm, continue turning on a bi-weekly basis.
It’s incredible, but by early June, we usually have a pile of compost that is ready to go, and full of nutrients. All from a pile of leaves! Here is to making incredible compost from your leaves this year, and having mountains of black gold next spring! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary
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