a yard worker wearing gloves to show how to compost leaves

How to Compost Leaves in Your Yard

Here’s a hot take: Leaf litter is not litter.

Instead, fallen leaves are a beneficial byproduct you can harness to create soil amendments, resilient garden beds, and happy, colorful plants — season after season.

And if you know how to compost leaves, you can harvest these benefits with almost zero investment or hard work. Your neighbors may be bagging leaves and dragging them to the curb for collection. But you’ll be stockpiling nutrients and fostering communities of soil organisms for your grass or plantings for years to come.

The best part: It’s free.

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All it takes is a rake, a mower, and a little patience. Here’s Maas Verde’s easy guide to composting leaves.

How to Compost Leaves

    1. Rake or blow leaves into a pile. Shred them with any lawnmower. Maas Verde recommends a mower bag for tidier collection.

    1. Collect leaves into a pile or bin. Here’s a simple setup you can build out of pallets.

    1. Add layers of nitrogen-rich materials. Grass clippings, food waste, and manure are common sources. Create layers 6-10” thick.

    1. Start with a pile several feet tall. Keep the volume of leaves and other materials roughly equal.

    1. Hurry up and wait! You will only turn the compost twice each year. More on that later — stick around, because the reason has to do with barbeque.

    1. Check for moisture periodically. You don’t want to disturb the compost too much, so you can insert an object like a stirring spoon to do this. Samples from inside the pile should be about as damp as a squeezed-out kitchen sponge. If it’s dry, wet it moderately with a hose end sprayer or watering can.

    1. Turn the pile once in summer and once in winter. The key is to aerate the mixture, so you’ll want to use a pitchfork or similar tool.

    1. The mixture will heat up while it processes. Eventually, earthworms will colonize it. And within 12-18 months, you should have dark, crumbly, nutrient-rich compost!

Photo: USDA via Rawpixel

This is the “static pile” compost model. It may sound unusual to anyone who’s used to turning compost each month or two. But one slow-cooked, staple Texan food can shed light on the benefit.

“Imagine you’re cooking a brisket. Would you rather rub it down and smoke it for 12 hours, or toss it in the microwave and call it good?” Maas Verde project manager John Harris said. “If you’re in that first camp, you’re a static pile compost person.”

Enough said.

Harris advised working compost into garden soils by spreading and raking. You can also use it to top dress your lawn in spring or fall, or add it right back into your pile to keep cultivating it, season after season.

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