An array of colorful, fall leaves blanketing your lawn around this time of year can be a beautiful sight to see. The mixture of a cool, fall breeze and hearing the leaves crunch under your feet as you walk signals the arrival of the fall season.
As picturesque as this scene may be, however, letting fall leaves stay on your lawn for too long can be detrimental to the health and appearance of your grass. Leaves on the lawn can block out sunlight, and promote snow mold which kills your grass leaving bare spots in your lawn. This is why it is critical to remove fall leaves from your yard.
Your first thought may be to just bag the leaves and set them out to be picked up for removal. While equally effective, why not put the leaves to good use? Instead of just throwing the leaves away, a great alternative is using them to make leaf compost. The result will be a beneficial product that will improve the overall health of your soil and lawn.
Key Benefits of Composting Leaves
There are several key benefits of composting leaves. It’s good for the environment, improves the overall health of the soil, and prevents future damage to your grass.
Making leaf compost is a greener alternative to bagging your leaves and leaving them out for pickup by decreasing the amount of yard waste that ends up in landfills. When organic materials go to the landfill they cannot break down naturally, which leads them to release methane, a greenhouse gas. Leaf composting is a great, no-waste way to recycle materials you already have and make a product that is filled with key nutrients and minerals for your soil and lawn. If you’ve been looking to incorporate more organic lawn care methods into your routine, this is an easy way to start! You will help your lawn and ultimately, the environment.
Another benefit of making leaf compost is that it creates an organic product that will improve the health of your soil. The nutrients that develop in compost aid in helping feed the microbes in the soil, which ultimately builds a stronger root system, proper water distribution, and moisture retention.
The Difference Between Composting and Mulching Leaves
Before we get into how to compost leaves, we want to clear up the difference between mulching and composting. Some people assume that the terms composting and mulching have the same meaning. Though both essentially define methods that aim to improve the health of the soil, each term is different and represents different processes.
Composting leaves is defined as the process of breaking down decomposed, organic material, including leaves, and making it into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used to enrich your lawn and garden. Mulching leaves, however, involves shredding the leaves that are currently on the lawn with a mower in order to speed up the process of the leaves naturally breaking down and adding nutrients to your soil.
How to Make Leaf Compost
Here are five easy steps to making an effective leaf compost for your lawn:
1. Shred and Collect Leaves
The first step to making leaf compost is shredding the leaves. Using shredded leaves for your compost will aid in expediting the decomposition process. Prior to shredding the leaves, make sure they are dry. Set mower height to about three to four inches and go over the leaves on your lawn until they’re reduced to confetti-sized pieces. Using whole leaves for compost may delay or hinder the decomposition process. Once you’ve shredded your leaves, it’s time to collect them. You can either catch them in your lawnmower bag or rake them into a pile.
2. Add Shredded Leaves to Compost Pile
Now that you’ve compiled the shredded leaves for your compost, it’s time to store it! You need to properly store compost to make sure the process isn’t interrupted. The best way to do this is by adding your leaf compost to a structure, such as a trash bag, a bin, or a designated area in your yard that you know is secure and won’t be interfered with. A great way to speed up the composting process is to cover the structure or pile so that it stays warm and the microorganisms can break down the organic material faster.
3. Add Nitrogen and Carbon Elements
Good compost requires three main ingredients: green (nitrogen sources), brown (carbon sources), and water. Brown ingredients include materials such as dead leaves, straw, branches, and twigs. Examples of green ingredients include fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruits, vegetables, and weeds (that have not gone to seed). Water is needed to help break down these ingredients into a cohesive and uniform pile. The ideal ratio of nitrogen to carbon ingredients is as follows: 1 part of a nitrogen element to 30 parts of a carbon element. The carbon elements in this ratio can vary, however, as it’s dependent on the number of organic materials you need for your individual compost pile. Having an appropriate ratio of ingredients will help your leaf compost to decompose properly and quickly.
Examples of “green” materials to add:
- Fresh, grass clippings
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Fresh hay
- Corn cobs or stalks
Examples of “brown” materials to add:
- Dry, shredded leaves
- Dried pine needles
- Wood chips
- Shredded, uncoated paper products, such as newspaper, copy paper, or paper coffee filters
There are also some ingredients that should not be added to your compost, including dairy or animal byproducts, diseased leaves, debris from black walnut trees, plants treated with insecticides or pesticides, plastic, oil, or lime. Adding any of these ingredients can cause harmful bacteria, mold, and/or insects and pests to infest your compost pile and delay decomposition considerably. The main goal of creating a successful compost is making sure the ingredients that are added to it are beneficial and not doing more harm than good.
4. Turn Leaf Compost
Proper maintenance is key to making sure that the organic material is decomposing properly. Once you’ve added enough elements to your leaf compost pile, turn your compost pile every two weeks so that all ingredients are thoroughly mixed together and maintain proper oxygen and moisture levels.
Another thing to keep in mind during the maintenance stage of the composting process is ensuring your compost mixture has a proper ratio of wet-to-dry ingredients. If you find your compost is too dry, add a small amount of water to it. If it’s too wet, incorporate more dry leaves or brown ingredients to balance it out.
5. Use Finished Leaf Compost
If you follow all of the steps properly, most compost is ready to use in approximately three to nine months, but individual results can vary. If you make leaf compost in the fall, it can be ready to use for spring. You will know your leaf compost is finished when its color and texture resemble that of soil (dark in color, crumbly in texture). When your compost is ready to use, add a top dressing of compost in an even layer on your lawn when it needs feeding or prior to seeding a new lawn.
Composting leaves is an effective way to create something completely natural and organic for your lawn. You can have the satisfaction of knowing you took a little extra time and care to make something beneficial for your lawn and prevent waste. By following the steps above you’ll be able to have nutrient-rich compost that will feed your soil and help you grow greener, healthier grass! So once you’ve let the kids jump into the piles of leaves this fall, start composting them to make a great product for your lawn and garden that will improve the soil, and protect the environment. Comment below if you are going to compost your leaves this fall!
Want more articles on fall and winter lawn care? Check these out!
- 8 Essential Tips for Fall Lawn Care
- 10 Easy Steps to Get Ready for Winter This Year
- Best Lawn Fertilizer for Fall