Ali Lawrence has been gardening since she was five. She was born and raised in Alaska but now resides in Pennsylvania where her family grows a large garden every year. Her passions include writing haikus and finding new ways to use her essential oils! Read more articles from Ali at and connect with her on Pinterest.


Step-By-Step Guide to Composting Your Fall Leaves
by Ali Lawrence - posted 10/27/16

composting fall leaves

Raking up fall leaves is probably only enjoyed by children plotting to jump in the pile as soon as they have it big enough. But if you knew how fall leaves could benefit your garden’s soil next spring, you might not be as reluctant to rake them. By following these simple steps, your garden could be the envy of the neighborhood next spring.

Soil gets depleted, and by adding compost to it, you’re giving it the equivalent of a Vitamin B shot. Compost will add nutrients, encourage plant growth and restore your soil with a rich humus. Compost will stimulate the roots.

It can also help sandy soil to retain moisture, which, combined with mulching, can help your garden survive the occasional dry spell. If you live in an area that has hard clay soil, compost can help to loosen it.

1. Select a compost bin that will hold a sufficient amount of leaves. You can make one yourself out of wood or a large plastic trash bin. You can also fence off a square in your yard to use — just be sure you can easily rotate the composting materials with a rake or pitchfork.

Commercially made bins are also available at most hardware or garden centers. You will want to select one that can rotate, or that you will be able to get a pitchfork into so you can aerate the materials. Most people prefer closed bins for compost since it controls the smell, stops animals from getting into the compost bin, and keeps rain away from washing out all the nutrients.

2. Add the right balance of materials to your compost. Brown (carbon rich) materials consist of your fall leaves, shredded newspaper and hay or straw. Green (nitrogen rich) materials are vegetable scraps, grass clippings and manure from herbivores. You should have two buckets of brown material for every one bucket of green material.

Chicken manure will activate your compost by adding nitrogen. Just make sure if you are using manure to let it mature for 6 months before adding to the soil.

You can also add grass or plant clippings, egg shells, coffee grounds (including the filters), and vegetable trimmings like potato skins, carrot peelings and lettuce or cabbage hearts. These are all considered green (or moist) composting materials.

Before adding materials to your compost bin, shred all items to make your compost pile cook faster.

Check out this infographic by Safer Brand to see what materials you can add to fix nutritional deficiencies in your plants.

how to make great compost - Safer Brand infographic

3. There are some things you should never add, because they will either lengthen the time it will take for your compost to mature, or they will be unsafe. Dairy products will slow down the process because they block the oxygen that good organisms need. Human and pet feces (dog or cat) can spread disease and should never be added.

Meats, whole bones (bone meal is fine though), fish scraps and animal fats should also not be added, along with any treated wood shavings or sawdust. The chemicals used to treat the wood will add poisons to your compost, which could be absorbed by foods growing in your garden. Peels, such as banana, peach or citrus rinds should also be avoided, along with black walnut leaves. Perennial weeds, if added, will spread with the compost.

4. Keep your compost damp. It’s important to occasionally water your compost to keep it damp (not too wet though!). When adding ingredients, layer them evenly on top, water, and then mix it all together.

5. Turning the compost every one to two weeks to aerate it and help it to “cook.” Covering your compost with a bin lid, wood or plastic will help to retain moisture and heat.

6. Use your compost in vegetable and flower beds, around trees, newly turned or established areas for planting, house plants and in your next batch of compost.

7. Too many leaves to use in your compost? They can be composted alone by just raking them to an area with good drainage. Choosing a sunny location in your yard for a stationary pile of leaves will allow it to get as much heat as it can, to speed up the composting process. You can choose a shaded location, but the process will take longer — especially during the winter months.

A pile that’s at least four feet around and three feet high, with a thin layer of dirt between each foot of leaves, is ideal. It will compost in approximately five months, and should only be used to amend and condition soil, since it will not have many nutrients.

No matter how you choose to start your composting, there isn’t any wrong reason for doing it. You will be benefitting your garden, reducing your carbon footprint and enjoying a healthier harvest.

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