How to Build a Compost of Leaves

Overview

Autumn leaves are nature's way of recycling the nutrients used by the tree during the summer. Leaves are rich in minerals, and adding leaf compost to any soil automatically makes it more fertile and productive. Leaf compost is a banquet for the necessary microorganisms and worms, and it helps the soil retain more water for longer periods. When leaves decompose by themselves the end result is called leaf mold. By adding sources of nitrogen the mold turns into compost. The best approach is for you to gather a variety of leaves to provide the widest assortment of nutrients to the compost.

Step 1

Build a contained area for the leaves. This can be as simple as several wooden pallets nailed together to crate a frame, or a round enclosure made from chicken wire with stakes for support. A good size is 4 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet.

Step 2

Shred the leaves if possible to speed up the composting. A dedicated leaf shredder works best, but the leaves can also be run over with a lawn mower. It's OK if you don't shred the leaves, but the composting process will be slower.

Step 3

Add the leaves to the bin and mix in five pounds of coffee grounds and one shovel of soil for every bushel of shredded leaves. You can also add any vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Water thoroughly after you add the leaves and the other material. After watering, the compost should have the dampness of a wet sponge.

Step 4

Climb into the composting area to compact the leaves and other material. This removes oxygen from the pile but creates space for more leaves.

Step 5

Check a few days later to see if the compost pile has started generating heat. Cover the sides and top of the pile with insulation.

Step 6

Stir the composting pile periodically during the winter so that it continues to generate heat. Otherwise the pile will become dormant in the cold and renew the process in the spring.

Step 7

Remix the pile when spring and warmer temperatures arrive. Continue to add vegetable scrapes and other material to the pile. If the leaves were shredded, the compost was stirred during the winter and watered well, and the compost is remixed in the spring, the compost should be ready to add to your garden soil by the end of June. If the leaves were left whole, it may take another two months of composting and remixing on a regular basis before the compost is ready for the garden.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not add leaves to the compost that have been left out on the curb.

Things You'll Need

  • Composting area
  • Extra nitrogen-producing ingredients
  • Leaf shredder
  • Water

References

  • Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension: Backyard Leaf Composting
  • The Master Gardeners: How to Compost Leaves
  • The Compost Bin: Shredded Leaf Compost
  • Los Angles Times: Think spring: Starbucks coffee grounds for the garden

Who Can Help

  • Plant Talk Colorado: Composting: fall leaves
Keywords: composting leaves, creating leaf compost, leaf composting

About this Author

Jack Burton started writing professionally in 1980. He has written for "Word from Jerusalem," "ICEJ Daily News" and Tagalong Garden News. Burton managed radio stations, TV studios and newspapers, and was the chief fundraiser for Taltree Arboretum. He has a Bachelor of Science in broadcasting from John Brown University, and retired from the Navy Reserve in 1999.