As far back as we can remember, homeowners have been waging a misguided war against fallen leaves. Trees are our best friends, and in addition to shade, oxygen, and natural beauty, they also drop their precious leaves each year. This provides valuable fertilizer to everything around them.
Sadly, most people think of fallen leaves as yard waste or unsightly trash. If that’s not vexing enough, the invention of the leaf blower has taken this thoughtless activity to the apex of annoyance.
But there is still a good reason to rake up leaves. Not to deprive your lawn of nutrients and frost protection but to use as compost material for your garden.
Here, we’ll find out a wide range of reasons why and how leaf composting is a wonderful idea.
- Leaf Composting for Smart Organic Fertilizer
- Leaf Shedding is Not an Accident of Nature
- 5 Ways For Composting With Leaves
Leaf Composting for Smart Organic Fertilizer
First, what is leaf composting?
It’s when fallen or shredded leaves are mixed with other organic materials, such as wood chips, food scraps, grass clippings, or any garden waste. It undergoes a decomposition process, breaking down the ingredients to produce an excellent organic material, most commonly called “black gold.”
However, leaf compost is quite different from leaf mulch or leaf mold, which is basically just fallen leaves and water. So it’s best to remember the difference between the two.
Composting is a biological process that is an excellent way to provide additional nutrients to plant growth and help your garden bed flourish. It’s also great for the environment, making trash day simpler and more pleasant.
Your kitchen scraps or any organic waste is a wonderful source of composting material. You can use woody materials like straw, limbs, pine needles, wood ash, wood chips, and sawdust.
But if you’re concerned that your leaving isn’t enough, there’s no need to worry. The trees around us provide an endless supply of free organic waste for your compost pile.
Once you learn about all the benefits of leaf composting, you might even start driving around with trash bags gathering up more leaves.
Valuable, Chemical-Free Nutrients
Fallen leaves are loaded with nutrients. Nutrient analysis shows leaves contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorous, and more.
These are all valuable nutrients you can add to your compost pile for your garden and help keep your soil healthy. Better still, you know you’re getting all these nutrients free of the chemicals that are common in most commercial fertilizers.
Moreover, it’s known to improve soil fertility as it decomposes and reduces the need for commercial chemical fertilizers.
Creates Better Crops
Adding leaf compost to your garden is excellent as it creates a good growing environment, especially if you’re into organic farming.
The vegetable crops your produce can be grown without chemical treatment and will be organic, hence better crops.
Leaves fall in autumn, just before the winter frosts. If you ask us, you couldn’t ask for a better system to protect microorganisms and plants from freezing.
As your topsoil protects your garden, fallen leaves do the same thing when they need it most.
Wintertime is not just cold, but it is also dry. A covering of leaves also helps retain moisture in your garden bed, as it’s naturally absorbent and dense.
This is part of the reason we like to leave them on the ground rather than mulching them up. You can do that too, but you’re not getting all the protective benefits which might be especially valuable if you live in an area with tough winters.
Better Soil pH
Fallen leaves also improve the pH balance of your garden soil. You want your soil pH to be between 6.5 and 9.
After checking it with a soil pH tester, if you find it is low, sprinkling in a couple of bags of dropped leaves could change it in a season.
Improved Top Soil
Topsoil has many benefits, such as protecting and insulating roots and carefully cultivating the soil. Decomposing leaves are like a performance booster for topsoil.
Applying 1″ to 3″ inches of finished compost on the topsoil will strengthen the soil microbes, guard against erosion, and keep nutrients where you want them.
Good Soil Amendment
Compostable materials like leaf compost make an excellent soil amendment, especially if you live in a location with sandy soils. This is because leaf compost helps build structure and improves the soil’s ability to hold water.
In addition, you can use leaf compost to improve your clay soil organically. It helps loosen up and provides air circulation to clay soil so water can better penetrate.
Promotes Soil Organisms
Using leaf compost as an organic mulch is also an excellent way to improve soil composition and provide minerals necessary for plant growth.
This also helps promote the production of important soil organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and arthropods, which add nutrients to the soil and increase soil organic matter.
Leaf Shedding is Not an Accident of Nature
Most people think trees drop their leaves in winter just because they won’t need them for the next few months. But the truth is far more interesting. In reality, trees need good healthy soil, and dropping their leaves is a way to maintain the ground they live in.
The seeds that a tree usually drops land nearby. So dropping their leaves during the winter can give their own seedlings a better chance of survival.
Even evergreen trees drop their leaves. But they do it slowly all year long. Fallen evergreen needles are actually amazing as kindling, and evergreen forests need the occasional forest fire for optimal conditions.
That’s beside the subject, of course, but it shows that these processes are not just evolutionary accidents. They are important ways trees take care of themselves and their immediate surroundings. In reality, it’s a pretty elegant system.
5 Ways For Composting With Leaves
There are several ways to gather and make use of leaves. Leaf composting is one way, which is quite simple and only needs a good mix and time.
The composting process usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks to complete, depending on the used organic materials in the compost.
You can speed up the decomposition process by adding nitrogen, as it will allow more oxygen into the compost pile. This can be accomplished by adding animal manure or general-purpose fertilizer.
Depending on your gardening goals, the climate you live in, and available gardening time, you’ll find a method that suits you well.
Raking is slow, but it allows you to make large piles wherever you want them. You can use your rake to gather and move them to your garden bed. Or you can use it to create a nice, solid cover layer where you want it.
Lawnmowers can be a wonderful gardening tool. You can mow up leaves and fresh grass clippings and mulch them together.
If you like a nice healthy lawn, just leave the mowed grass and leaves where they are. Of course, the bag on the mower makes a handy container if you prefer composting in bulk. Grass-Cycling is another accepted form of composting.
Grinders and Shredders
There are also shredders and grinders that are designed to turn leaves into organic mulch. It also helps the bacteria to break down materials into compost.
It’s faster than letting the leaves decompose on their own. This is best done after raking or mowing.
Aside from producing an excellent compost pile or leaf mulch, shredding leaves is a smart idea because leaves are biodegradable waste that helps control weeds and naturally kills weed seeds.
Moreover, it also takes up less space, so you can stuff more in a composting chamber or disposal bags. But doing so will cause you to miss out on the protection fallen leaves can offer if you compost this way.
The Natural Way
If you have a large tree or trees near enough to your garden bed, you don’t have to do anything. Just let the leaves fall and do what they do naturally.
If you have a tree growing directly over your vegetable garden, it might sound strange, and we find that natural leaf fall creates the best natural composting results you could ask for.
After all, these systems have been developing for millions of years. The idea that we can improve on it artificially is silly.
Leaf Cleanup, Still Has its Place
Despite all this, there are still some reasons to clean up fallen leaves. If you want a nice manicured lawn or delicately sculpted landscaping, leaves can spoil it. If this is a concern of yours, using leaves as compost can be a good way to retake control of your landscaping.
A bright green, well-manicured lawn needs to have the leaves removed. Otherwise, they will lose that golf-course perfection some people go for.
Composting with shredders and grinders can overcome this problem by eliminating the leaves visually while retaining the nutrient benefits they offer.