- Author: Ed Perry
Did you know that fallen leaves can become a valuable garden resource? You can turn these leaves into compost. Although low in essential plant nutrients like nitrogen, the leaves still contain small amounts of all the nutrients plants need and are a valuable source of soil-improving organic matter.
Get started by chopping the leaves into smaller pieces before adding them to the pile. You can use a chipper or a shredder if you have one. Otherwise, run over them with a lawn mower and then mix them into your compost pile. If you have a lot of leaves, you can store them after shredding in garbage bags or containers, then occasionally layer them into your compost pile over the winter to add air to the pile.
Sometimes certain green materials, like grass clippings, become matted in the compost pile. When this happens oxygen is excluded, and the composting process may stop. Adding leaves helps keep the grass clippings fluffed up and aerated.
If you're new to composting, keep in mind that the decomposition process works best if you mix equal volumes of carbon-rich, naturally dry plant material (dead leaves, dried grass, straw, and woody prunings) with nitrogen-rich green plant material (grass clippings, wilted flowers, green prunings, weeds and fruit and vegetable waste). This mixture allows a “carbon to nitrogen” ratio of 30 to 1, which is ideal for efficient compost production. You can produce compost slowly or quickly. Here are two methods:
The Slow Method
Build a pile of organic materials and let it stand for a year, when the compost will finally be ready for use. The advantage of this method is that it takes relatively little effort. However, some nutrients may be leached due to exposure to rainfall, and low composting temperatures may not kill some weed seeds and disease-producing organisms. For more information on this method, download the leaflet Composting is Good for Your Garden and the Environment.
Rapid Composting Method
This process produces compost in as little as 2 to 3 weeks but requires more effort. It allows you to produce large amounts of compost quickly. For more details about this method, you can download the leaflet Compost in a Hurry.
Many local nurseries and the Modesto Junior College offer hands-on composting classes. In the future, our UCCE Master Gardeners plan to offer composting classes. Keep in touch with us by signing up for our blog and following us on Facebook and Twitter @UCMGStanislaus to hear about upcoming classes and workshops.
Ed Perry is the emeritus Environmental Horticultural Advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Stanislaus County.