Compost Your Autumn Tree Leaves, Don’t Waste Them!

Every Autumn, I see piles of tree leaves waiting for the city trucks to come along and suck them up, to be carried off to the municipal compost pile. Hopefully they aren’t going to the landfill.

compost tree leaves

But if you’re a gardener, I sincerely hope that you’re saving those tree leaves for your garden. They can be used as mulch or compost and are an important source of nutrients for your soil.

According to The Rodale Book Of Composting“Leaves are a valuable compostable and mulch material. Because trees have extensive root systems, they draw nutrients up from deep within the subsoil. Much of this mineral bounty is passed into the leaves, making them a superior garden resource. Pound for pound, the leaves of most trees contain twice the mineral content of manure. The considerable fiber content of leaves aids in improving the aeration and crumb structure of most soils.”

Composted tree leaves and similar organic material are excellent for lowering the pH of alkaline soil.

To use the tree leaves as mulch, chop them up with a lawn mower or shredder (because whole leaves tend to mat together), and then leave them weather in the open air for a few months. Chopping your organic material into fine pieces helps it decay much, much faster than leaving it whole. Leave them outdoors for a few months, because leaves contain growth-inhibiting phenols that should be allowed to leach away before they’re used.

Make Leaf Mold

You can also make leaf mold, which is extremely nutritious for your plants. Leaf mold is the end product of tree leaves decomposing in a moist environment, primarily by fungi. You know the thick, dark material that grows under the fresh leaves on the forest floor? That’s leaf mold.

To make leaf mold, rake your leaves into a pile and water them down. Then let them sit for two or three years. Yes, years. It’s probably a good idea to put them in a compost bin of some sort so they won’t blow away. Turn them once in awhile to make sure that anaerobic bacteria doesn’t build up and create a putrid smell.

But the simplest thing to do with those tree leaves is to shred them and throw them into your compost pile along with high nitrogen material (leaves are very low in nitrogen and will break down very slowly). Mix the leaves with kitchen scraps, grass clippings, manure, blood meal, etc. If your garden is fallow over the winter, work them into the soil now so they’ll decompose over the winter and early spring.

Rake ’em up and compost ’em! Don’t let those tree leaves go to waste.

About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn’t writing or reading about organic gardening, he’s gardening. His first book, “Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden” is available on Amazon now.
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6 Responses to Compost Your Autumn Tree Leaves, Don’t Waste Them!

  1. Melissa says:

    Totally. You can also put them in a trash can and then put the weed whacker in there for a minute to grind them up. Works well, but it is pretty loud!

  2. Grape Boy says:

    I like to supercharge my leaves pile by throwing any worms I dig up onto the pile. They speed up the composting and the worm castings are about the best thing going for plants.

  3. Not sure about everyone else, but I liked what you posted here.

  4. Isabella says:

    Awhile back I decided I was going to start my own compost bin and this article was very helpful as
    I was planning on using only dirt and food scraps. I was not aware of the
    benefits that leaves had twice the mineral content of manure and were
    great for lowing ph levels in alkaline soil. I followed your advice last
    fall and am very excited to make use of my compost this spring!

  5. Roel Bokashi says:

    Good idea to compost your autumn leaves. I think I’m going to do that as well.

    Thanks for the tip!

  6. Sarah says:

    That was a great description of how to compost your leaves. Very helpful!