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Compost your leaves

Leaves in the lawn

Fall brings beautiful colors and falling leaves. In nature, leaves are left to decompose on the forest floor. This can be done in home lawns too if the layer is not too thick. Simply run them over with a lawnmower and the shredded leaves will fall between the grass blades and sit on the soil surface and decompose. If leaves are too numerous to mulch into the lawn they should be raked up and removed. This brings up an important question. What should be done with the raked up leaves? 

The answer is, compost them. Haul your leaves to the city compost site or compost them yourself. Gardeners have long used compost to successfully improve the physical condition of the soil and to add some nutrients for plant growth. 

If you would like to make your own compost remember that the microorganisms responsible for the decomposition of leaves and yard waste require oxygen, water and nitrogen. If these microorganisms receive insufficient oxygen, some decomposition will occur, but the process is much slower and foul odors may develop. Materials to be composted will break down more rapidly if they are shredded or chopped into smaller pieces. Leaves can be chopped by simply piling them up and running over them with a lawnmower.

Composting in a structure will save space and reduce the time needed to make compost. Compost bins can be elaborate structures made of treated lumber or much simpler structures made of woven wire, wooden pallets, concrete blocks, or similar materials.

Many organic materials can be composted such as non-woody shrub trimmings, faded flowers, green weeds, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable peelings, and even shredded black and white newsprint. Although grass clippings can be composted, it is best to allow clippings to remain on the lawn. Do not add diseased or insect infested plants or weeds laden with ripe seeds.

Build your compost pile in layers, beginning with 8 to 10 inches of leaves or plant trimmings. Next, add a nitrogen source such as one to two inches of livestock manure or ammonium sulfate at a rate of one third cup per 25 square feet of surface area. If these nitrogen sources are not available, a lawn fertilizer that does not contain a pesticide may be used. Repeat these layers until the pile reaches a height of five feet, watering each time you add a new layer. Turn the material in the pile once or twice a month to speed decomposition and minimize odors. A well managed compost pile will convert all of your leaves into excellent compost in three to seven months. An untended pile will take a year or more to decompose. Source: Carl Hoffman, Extension Educator Emeritus.