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Turn Fallen Leaves Into Next Spring’s Compost

The bane of fall can become the boom of spring. I’m talking about fallen leaves. They should be raked or blown from the lawn and flower beds, so why not put them to work helping maintain your landscape?

Leaves that you rake or blow to the curb for the municipality to take away will be composted and used in parks and around public buildings. With a little extra effort, you can compost and use the good, natural organic matter to keep your own landscape healthy. Compost is sometimes referred to as black gold, and soon it could be all over your yard just for the taking.

If you already compost, all you need to do is add the leaves to the material already decomposing. If you’re new to composting, you’ll need a bin for the raw material to decompose in. If you’re handy, you can make a wood box or a chicken wire enclosure, or even use a plastic trash can.  Periodically, you’ll have to stir the material up. You can find how-to information online. You can also buy tumbling composters at big box stores and online. Then all you do is turn the handle periodically to stir the material.

Leaves should be chopped up or they won’t compost thoroughly over the winter. At least not in cold climates like ours here in upstate New York. My favorite chopping method is to load the leaves into a plastic trash can. Put on safety equipment, especially safety glasses. Then fire up your string trimmer and plunge it into the can of leaves just as you would an immersion blender in the kitchen. Repeat until the leaves are pulverized. Finally, haul the trash can to the composter and dump it. 

The easiest way to compost leaves that fall on your lawn is to set your lawn mower to mulching mode when the leaves begin to fall. Each time you mow, the mower will chop the leaves right along with the grass clippings and drop them into the turf. As the leaves and clippings decompose, they’ll return organic matter to the soil. 

While the mower will take care of the leaves that fall on the lawn, you’ll still have the leaves that fall in your planting beds, on the driveway and other hard surfaces to compost and return to the beds in the spring. When the soil has dried out in the spring, load the compost into a wheelbarrow or garden cart, and take it to the beds. Don’t dump it. Using a shovel, scatter it throughout the beds. Then work the compost into the soil with an iron rake. 

Don’t compost leaves from diseased or insect-infested trees. They could contaminate the compost and spread the disease organisms or insects to other plants when you spread the compost in the spring. Contaminated leaves should be bagged and put in a trash tote. You can compost some kitchen scraps like coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable scraps. If you throw kitchen scraps into the compost, check for animal activity when you turn the compost. Some people have reported rodents going after the food scraps.

Compost is an excellent source of organic matter for your soil. It’s free and requires little more labor than it takes to get your leaves to the curb. Your plants will love it and so will you.

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