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How to Compost Leaves

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How to Compost Leaves

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In nature, leaves compost themselves. Each fall they drop to the forest floor where they lay in piles. If you were to dig down below these piles you would see a rich loamy soil known as leaf mold. In your own yard, you can speed up the process of turning leaves into leaf mold then, eventually, usable compost by building a compost pile.

Cold Process

Step 1

Shred all leaves by running over them with a lawn mower. Leaves that haven't been chopped can take up to 2 years to decompose. By chopping leaves into 2 inch or smaller pieces, you will help speed up the process.

Step 2

Bend chicken wire into a circular tube and fasten the edges together with the lengths of heavy wire to create a compost bin. Secure your new bin to the ground by threading the posts through the wire and driving them into the ground.

Step 3

Pile leaves into the compost bin.

Step 4

Wet the contents of the compost bin to the point that they are as damp as a wrung out sponge.

Step 5

Cover bin with a tarp to hold in moisture and wait for leaves to slowly decompose.

Hot Process

Step 1

Wire together four wooden pallets so that they form a large box with an open top.

Step 2

Chop organic kitchen scraps with kitchen shears, and reduce the size of grass clippings by cutting them with a lawn mower.

Step 3

Layer organic material into a pile inside the box so that the resulting pile is at least 3-feet square, but no more than 5-feet square. Each layer should alternate between organic green material such as kitchen scraps and grass clippings and organic browns such as your dead leaves. Use twice as many dead leaves as you do green scraps. Alternating layers of greens and browns and using this ratio will help keep your compost from smelling, and will help it decompose faster.

Step 4

Wet your compost pile to create an ideal environment for microbes to decompose the organic material inside. Your compost should stay just barely as wet as a damp sponge.

Step 5

Check the internal temperature of your compost daily with a compost thermometer. The compost temperature should stay between 130 degrees F and 150 degrees. Anytime your compost falls below 130 degrees, you should stir the compost with a pitchfork so that everything in the center is shifted to the outside and new undigested organic material is moved to the center. Keeping your compost's internal temperature above 130 degrees through frequent turning will help your leaves decompose faster.

Things You'll Need

  • Shredded leaves
  • Lawn mower
  • 10-foot length of chicken wire
  • 4-foot wooden or metal posts, 3
  • Length of heavy wire cut in 4-inch pieces
  • Garden hose
  • Tarp
  • 4 wooden pallets
  • Wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Grass clippings
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Kitchen shears
  • Compost thermometer
  • Pitchfork


  • University of Illinois Extension: Composting In the Home Garden
  • University of Missouri Extension: How to build a Compost Bin
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection: Types of Compost Bins

Who Can Help

  • Florida's Online Composting Center : Composting Bins
  • University of Illinois Extension: Composting for the Homeowner
Keywords: organic gardning, Brown material, hot compost

About this Author

After 10 years experience in writing, Tracy S. Morris has countless articles and two novels to her credit. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets" and "CatFancy," as well as the "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World," and several websites.