With the arrival of autumn also comes the arrival of piles of leaves on your front lawn. Although the color change and crisp fall air are welcome, it does bring with it some extra work: raking the leaves and finding something to do with them. Some people toss them in the garbage, use them to fill large bags decorated like pumpkins and then toss them in the garbage, or burn them. We have a better idea—why not compost them? The leaves from just a single large shade tree can be worth as much as $50 of plant food. Leaves are an excellent addition to garden soil to help increase its nutrient profile. Here's how to compost your fallen leaves the right way.
Benefits of Composting Leaves
There are a few key benefits of composting autumn leaves this fall. First and foremost, composting helps keep leaves out of the landfill. Sure, the leaves will biodegrade on their own, but the plastic bag you put them in to throw them away won't. In fact, every year it is estimated that 33.4 million tons of yard waste is generated every year in America. Although in some areas burning leaves is a common practice, this actually creates toxic smoke full of carbon monoxide and harmful particulates that can cause allergies and other health problems.
Additionally, leaves are the perfect substance for rich garden soil in the summer. Composting takes time, but adding leaf compost to your soil—or simply using it as soil—can help you grow proliferate flowers and garden vegetables during growing season. Leaf compost raises soil fertility, increases the porosity of the soil, and helps insulate plants. It keeps weeds away and retains moisture, making it an extremely valuable substance for your summer garden.
So, How Do You Get Started?
There's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to composting, but it's quite easy once you get the process down.
Rake your leaves. Naturally, the very first step is to get your leaves into a pile. It should be only about 4 to 6 inches high though—not a tall pile of leaves that kids love to jump into. You'll need to make it as wide as necessary for the amount of leaves you have. Wet leaves should dry before being composted, so if your leaves are soaked underneath, turn them over and allow them to dry.
Shred your leaves. The easiest way to do this is to use your mower. Mow over your pile of leaves until they are broken up into smaller pieces that will compost more easily. Either a riding or push mower will work. Ideally, you'll want to collect the small pieces of leaves in a bag that attaches to your mower, but if you don't have one, you can rake up as many as you can. It will be a little more difficult since they're so much smaller though.
Make your compost pile. Layer your leaves with grass clippings or other organic matter, making each layer about 4 inches tall. Alternate layers until you have a pile that is about 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall. You can also build a compost bin. Although you dried your leaves earlier, now you want to moisten them before adding each layer of organic matter. Spray gently with a hose, but make sure you keep the moisture even across the pile.
Mix your layers. Even though you carefully layered your leaves with your grass clippings or organic matter, now you're going to use a pitchfork to combine them. Every week, you'll mix your compost pile until all the matter turns into a rich, dark brown or black earthy looking substance. This is your compost, or "black gold". The entire composting process takes about three to six months.
If you start composting in the fall, your compost should be ready come spring and summer. Your garden vegetables and flowers will soak up the nutrients from the compost and your hard work all fall and winter will be well worth it. You may be surprised at how many vegetables you get from your plants! If you've ever struggled with your garden before, composting your leaves will likely put an end to it and give you a bountiful garden all summer long.