Benefits of Composting Fall Leaves
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
One of my favorite childhood memories growing up was jumping into piles of leaves every autumn. Although raking up all the leaves from the two huge sugar maples that graced the front yard of my childhood home was not exactly fun, knowing that we could play in the huge piles we gathered on the driveway was motivation enough to get the job done. Burrowing into the piles, and tossing arms-full of colorful crisp leaves into the air to have them shower down all around me are the embodiment of fall to me. Of course, we Baby Boomers remember that everyone then burned these leaf piles, fogging neighborhoods with distinctively fragrant smoke. Nowadays, most municipalities provide leaf collection every fall, vacuuming up leaves piled along the street curb or picking up paper-bagged leaves. These are then deposited into huge windrows to become compost, the most valuable of Nature’s gifts to gardeners.
Compost encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus. Humus greatly improves the texture of both clay and sandy soils. It helps retain moisture while simultaneously improving drainage. It not only adds valuable nutrients and minerals to soil, but actually lowers the pH of our local alkaline soil to make the nutrients more easily absorbed by vegetables, ornamental flowers, and shrubs. This results in healthier plants by suppressing plant diseases and pests, as well as reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.
Every fall, I drive around neighborhoods looking for leaves that people have so kindly and helpfully bagged for pickup! I usually gather four of five dozen bags to add to the piles that I have raked up from my trees. My usual procedure has been to use a small chopper/shredder I found at a garage sale years ago to chop the leaves into fine pieces. But, it’s nearly as easy to just run over piles with a lawn mower. This dramatically reduces the volume of the originally huge piles by roughly three-fourths. Then I spread about 6” of the chopped leaves over my previously cleared and cleaned perennial beds and vegetable garden before the first snows where the pieces will decompose by late spring. If I have some left over, I spread just a light layer over my lawn before the final mowing of the year. (When I do that last mowing, the leaves are further chopped up and easily fall through the blades of grass to decompose over the winter.)
If you haven't tried making compost from autumn leaves, you should give it a try for a free supply of the finest organic fertilizer you could ever want.