How to Compost Yard Waste


From dead leaves to grass clippings, yard waste made up a whopping 13 percent of the 250 million tons of waste that Americans shipped off to landfills in 2008. Budget-conscious homeowners and those desiring to live a greener lifestyle often turn to yard waste as an easy way to decrease their garbage--and as a prime source of nutrient-dense compost. Compost your yard waste by building a simple and inexpensive compost pile. Called heap composting, this composting method can produce crumbly finished compost in six months or less, as long as you're willing to invest a bit of time maintaining your compost.

Step 1

Gather your yard waste. Try to collect equal amounts of fresh, green nitrogen-rich yard waste (such as newly cut grass clippings, weeds, and leaves cut from trees) and dried, brown carbon-rich yard waste (such as dead leaves, dried grass clippings, and tree branches). Pick through your yard waste, looking for large chunks that you can slice or tear into pieces that measure less than approximately 1 inch in diameter.

Step 2

Remove a 4-foot-by-4-foot square piece of sod from a sunny, well-draining area of your yard or gardening site. Try to position your composting location out of sight of close neighbors or plan on disguising it with ornamental bushes or a trellis to keep your neighbors from having to stare at your decomposing compost every day.

Step 3

Place a 4- to 5-inch layer of shredded carbon-rich yard waste across the bare soil that marks your composting site. Mist the waste with a light spray of water from your garden hose to encourage increased microbial activity. Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of high-nitrogen yard scraps on top of your base compost layer.

Step 4

Supplement your nitrogen-rich organic waste with five to seven trowel scoops of an organic compost additive, such as cow manure or plain topsoil. Mist this organic material with your garden hose. Repeat the double layers of damp carbon- and nitrogen-rich organic yard waste, adding your compost additive every 10 to 12 inches, until your compost heap measures at least 3 feet tall.

Step 5

Leave your yard waste compost heap to heat up for at least three weeks as the compost microorganisms begin their work. Squish a handful of the composting materials once every two to three days to check the moisture level; ideally, you should be able to squeeze out no more than one or two drops of liquid, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. After the initial heating period has passed, aerate your yard waste compost with a manure fork once every one to two weeks, mixing the layers and replacing the compost in the center of the heap with the compost from the pile's edges.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never use manure from meat-eating animals in your compost. This manure may contain harmful pathogens that can survive hot composting temperatures and go on to infect humans.

Things You'll Need

  • Nitrogen-rich yard waste
  • Carbon-rich yard waste
  • Trowel/garden shears
  • Shovel
  • Garden hose
  • Compost additive (plain topsoil/cow manure)
  • Manure fork


  • U.S. EPA: 2008 Municipal Solid Waste Facts and Figures (pdf)
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Building Your Compost Pile
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide"; Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
Keywords: yard waste compost, composting dead leaves, composting yard waste

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.