How to Compost Fall Leaves - Backyard Boss
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How to Compost Fall Leaves

Gardening is one way to add enrichment to your life and a sure-fire way to produce your own food, so it’s important to nurture your garden to keep it flourishing over the years. A fundamental aspect of building your personal garden is adding compost to your soil—and lucky for you, compost doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You can make compost from simple components found around the yard, like fall leaves.

Autumn offers an opportunity to produce a massive supply of free compost that’s as nourishing to your garden as any other compost. There isn’t much work involved in making fall leaf compost either. It’s mostly a waiting game, though not a long one if you do it right. You can have a ready stock of compost long before spring gardening season.


composting and compost in the garden
Image credits: JuFagundes via Canva

Luckily, to produce your own homemade compost, you don’t need any equipment outside the realm of standard lawncare machinery and average household products. Check below for a list of what you’ll need:

  • Rake or leaf blower
  • Leaf shredder, lawn mower, or weed whacker
  • Eye protection (highly recommended)
  • Gardening gloves (optional)
  • 3×3-foot plastic bins, chicken wire, or garbage bags
  • Sharp object if using garbage bags
  • Spade or shovel for stirring compost


Woman throws fall leaves into the air
Image credits: Jakob Owens via Unsplash

Using your rake or leaf blower, gather as many of those fallen red, orange, yellow, and brown leaves into a series of rows. Creating rows will make it easier to shred the leaves, which is an important part of the composting process. Shredded leaves tend to break down faster than whole leaves, plus whole leaves are more likely to clump together when dampened and block necessary airflow inside the compost pile.

Now is a good time to consider eye protection! Once you’ve assembled your rows of leaves, shred the leaves into small pieces with a leaf shredder, a lawn mower, or weed whacker.

Don’t worry if some of the grass clippings get mixed with your leaf shreds. Grass clippings make an excellent nitrogen source, a component that’s critical to creating compost out of fall leaves.


Vegetables and peels beside compost tin and herbs
Image credits: Lenka Dzurendova via Unsplash

Next, after the leaves have been prepped, you’ll want to find a nitrogen source. Nitrogen will feed the bacteria that will disintegrate decaying leaf matter—and fed microorganisms will reproduce at rapid rates. Without an energy source for microorganisms, the leaves would not “heat up” and change state.

Nitrogen can be introduced into a compost pile in many ways. The most economical nitrogen sources are grass clippings, weeds and other garden debris, and kitchen scraps like uneaten food or coffee grounds. Another source of nitrogen is animal manure. You may also purchase nitrogen fertilizer to add to the compost pile. Ideally, you’ll have one-part of “green” matter (nitrogen source) to every five-parts of “brown” matter (leaves).


A compost mix of leaves and decaying fruit
Image credits: Del Barrett via Unsplash

 Your compost pile should be an adequate mix of shredded fall leaves and a nitrogen source. When the proper components are in place, bacteria will reproduce quickly in the pile and the heat their population brings will break down the elements in the pile. Layer one-part of your nitrogen source with five-parts leaves inside plastic bins, garbage bags, or structures made of chicken wire.

There’s no need to close the containers holding your compost piles, but you may feel it’s easier to seal garbage bags. If that’s the case, poke a few holes into the garbage bags to create airflow. You can also pile your compost into a corner of a yard.

Whatever you do, make sure your pile is in a shaded area with decent airflow available. Try to keep piles limited to 3×3 feet, and make sure you’re able to access any piles easily to shake or stir them from time to time.

You can add some kind of bulking material like woodchips, sawdust, or straw to increase airflow and absorb excess moisture – these are both critical aspects of composting. Airflow helps spread the heat the microorganisms produce. Water is also a crucial component of compost piles, as bacteria also needs it. You’ll want your piles to be moist at all times, yet not soaking. About a cup of water per pile should suffice.


Person out of frame transfers dirt between yellow bucket and garden
Image credits: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Check on your compost pile(s) every few days. Aerate and stir the mixture to evenly distribute heat created by microbes and improve airflow. Shake bags if your compost is in garbage bags.

Lastly, don’t let your compost dry out. As a general rule, if you squeeze some of the mixture and no water drips out, you should add a cup of water. Keep doing this until the compost is brown and crumbles in your hands. The ideal method to it keep it damp but never soaking.

Expect the process to take about a month, give or take.


Fall leaves are dense in nutrients acquired from trees throughout the year. These nutrients will naturally end up in your soil if you convert the many fall leaves scattered across your lawns into compost. A mineral-rich garden is one major benefit of including compost in your soil, and that’s a big benefit. Soil packed with nutrients feeds beneficial organisms that will support soil aeration, eliminate pests and disease, and create long-lasting natural fertilizers.

That’s not all compost can do, though. Compost helps soil hold onto water, loosens soil to promote root growth, and reduces your environmental footprint by removing a need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

There are plenty of reasons to give fall leaf compost a try! If you love what it does for your garden, you can make it a yearly habit, given the accessibility and abundance of fall leaves.

Do you have tips and tricks for composting leaves? Make sure to leave a comment below!