We all love autumn – well, at least some of us do. The rainbow of colors, the riot of flowers and the incredible scenery. From golden yellows to rich reds, the abundance of iridescent colors is one reason why many of us love this season. But as soon as the leaves fall, we are jolted from our reverie owing to the huge amount of work we have to put in to properly dispose of these leaves. Let’s face it, leaves are quite annoying but if avoided, they can block gutters and drains and can cause a real headache. Here comes composting – the ultimate solution. There are numerous reasons why you should compost leaves. Firstly, they are a great source of minerals and nutrients. They supply nutrients that help retain soil moisture and texture. Composting leaves will ensure the soil gets these valuable minerals and nutrients. And what’s more? They are absolutely free which means you don’t need to pay a dime. So, how do you compost leaves at home?
To compost leaves at home, you need to gather it into a pile and shred into smaller pieces. This will enable it to break down quickly. Next, you need grass clippings and other nitrogen-rich sources. Finally, you need to turn at least once or twice weekly to ensure that moisture is distributed evenly.
Not detailed enough? Not to worry. We’ve compiled a step by step list of how you can compose at home. After you finish reading this article, you will learn how to make great leaf compost at home. You will also learn how to make compost from grass clippings.
What leaves are GOOD and NOT GOOD for composting?
Before you start composting, you need to know your leaves. Not all leaves compost effectively so knowing a thing or two about these types of leaves will definitely come in handy. The best leaves for composting are those higher in nitrogen and calcium. They include maple, ash, poplar, fruit tree leaves, and willow. These leaves are lower in lignin and will break down easily.
On the other hand, some leaves will take longer than a year to break down effectively. These leaves are lower in calcium and nitrogen and higher in lignin. They include sweet chestnut, oak, magnolia, hornbeam, beech, and holly. Also, leaves of eucalyptus and black walnut contain natural herbicides that may prevent seed germination. Make sure they aren’t added to your compost pile.
How do you compost leaves efficiently?
Now that you know what leaves are good and not good for composting, you can now begin to learn how to make the best of your leaves at home. Enough ado, let’s dive right in.
- Gather leaves into a pile
Firstly, you need to gather the leaves in a pile. The number of your leaves should be proportionate to the size of the compost pile you are trying to create. If you are looking to create a large compost pile, you will need a large number of leaves. Take note that as leaves rot, they shrink in size and become smaller.
- Shred the leaves
Shredding the leaves will significantly speed up its decomposition process. If you do not own a shredder, you can mow the leaves to collect them. Alternatively, you can make use of a string trimmer and a garbage can. Simply, fill you can with leaves (three-quarters full). Pull your string trimmer in, switch it on and move through the layers of leaves.
- Add grass clippings and other nitrogen-rich sources into your leaf compost pile
Grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen. Adding it to your compost pile will speed up the process. For every measure of grass, add three measures of leaves and stir. If you use an open bin, do not be tempted to add meat or fish scraps to your pile. They are attractive to scavengers like mice, raccoons, and even rats. And then there’s the stench that emanates from rotting fish or meat.
- Check for moisture
Be sure to check for moisture when you turn. If the pile looks wet or soggy, dry it out by adding things like sawdust or straw. Add water to your pile if you spot dry patches. You can cover the pile with a plastic sheet to prevent it from drying out and keep it warm.
- Turn the leaf pile frequently
To speed up composting and ensure that moisture is distributed evenly, turn your pile at least once or twice a week. As you turn, add more green waste like kitchen waste and grass clippings to your pile.
- Add organic matter weekly
Finally, as your leaves and grass clippings start to decay, continue to add organic matter. For example, you can toss banana peels or coffee grounds into your compost pile once in a week.
Other ways to deal with leaves in your garden
Other than composting, there are other great ways to get the best out of the leaves in your garden. One great way is using leaves to protect containers from harsh winter conditions. I bet you didn’t know that. To do this, cluster your containers together and cover the sides and top with leaves.
Also, leaves can be added directly to your soil as a dressing. Covering your soil with leaves is a great way to keep your soil insulated and protected from heavy winds and rains that may erode the soil and leech out beneficial nutrients.
Finally, you can make leaf mold from it. It’s faster and easier to make. Just take a large container, fill it with leaves and dampen. Easy, right?
How to compost leaves in the winter?
Composting leaves during the winter can be a bit tricky. For the compost to break down completely, heat is definitely required. But during the winter, it is practically impossible for your compost to get sufficient heat and this may put the process on hold. But composting doesn’t necessarily have to stop. You can still care for your compost pile during winter. Here are a few tips that will help
During winter, decomposition will definitely slow down. At some point, it will definitely freeze and come to a complete stop. But that is no excuse to stop composting. Because heavy winter winds and low humidity can dry out your pile, be sure to water it, albeit sparingly or as needed.
During winter, add only kitchen scraps (blood meal, steer manure, alfalfa pellets) in large quantities. This is because they are rich in nitrogen and will help keep microbe activity and temperatures up.
If your pile is frozen, there’s no need to turn or mix up. However, be sure to turn it whenever temperature allows.
How long does it take for leaves to compost?
Generally, composting takes between 6-9 months. Sometimes it may take as long as a year before it becomes ready to use. To speed up things, make sure the heap is turned regularly. You can add lawn clippings and white-lime as well.
How do you compost grass clippings?
Like leaves, composting grass is a great way to add essential nutrients to the soil. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen and are great fertilizers for the soul. When grass clippings decompose, they release nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen back to the soil, significantly improving soil’s quality. They also serve as a food source for bacteria that aid decomposition.
Composting grass needs time, commitment and effort. Although it is not difficult, you certainly have to do more than heap grasses in your compost bin and walk away. You have to make time out, no matter how little to do this.
Firstly, you need to separate grass clippings that have been treated with herbicides and/or pesticides from those that haven’t been treated. Grass clippings that have been treated with herbicides take longer to break down so it’s best they are separated.
Next, ensure your compost has a proper balance of brown(dry leaves) and green material. This is very essential. As your grass clippings and leaves start to decay, continue to add organic matter. For example, you can toss banana peels or coffee grounds into your compost pile once in a week. Finally, ensure you turn regularly. Mixing clippings into the pile will prevent it from forming a mat in the pile. It would also help spread green material evenly.
Alternatively, you can compost the clippings on the lawn. You must ensure that they are shredded into small pieces (3-5mm) before spreading thoroughly. Spreading clippings without trimming will slow down the process and create thatch.
How long does it take for grass to compost?
When mixed properly with other yard waste, grass clippings take about 3 months before it breaks down completely. However, it is essential that they are mixed correctly, that is, one part clippings to two parts leaves (1:2). They must also be turned at least thrice monthly.
When your compost smells, feels and looks like dark brown earth, then it is ready for use and you’re good to go!