Benefits of composting leaves in the Little Alamance Watershed

Protecting the Little Alamance Creek Watershed - Good ideas for composting Fall Leaves from your yard!!

The past two weeks have been a blaze of color: brilliant golds, flame oranges and ruby reds. The shade trees of summer that provided relief from the heat under their canopies present glorious pageantry as we enter sweater weather. But the trees that were full of eye popping color last Monday are quickly dropping those leaves this week. Instead of bagging up those leaves, recycle them! They’re the trees final gift of the year.

Composting the fall crop of leaves yields brown gold in spring. Dry, brittle leaves turn into dark, rich humus. Not to be confused with hummus, which is a tasty dip made from chickpeas, humus is decomposed organic matter that benefits the soil. Humus creates a loose structure that concurrently holds moisture and drains well. When you use leaf compost as part of your gardening process you see the return in hardier, more vigorous plants.

It’s straightforward, easy, and mother-nature pretty much does the majority of the work for you if you are patient. If you can pile the leaves up in an enclosure and leave it alone for a few years, all you have to do is collect the finished compost. By contrast, composting yard waste, grass clippings, hay, etc…requires the compost pile reach temperatures hot enough to kill weed seeds and plant diseases -about 150 F. If you don’t want to wait years for nature’s natural breakdown, move your leaf composting along by making sure your leaf pile has sufficient air and moisture. This means turning, wetting and rebuilding the pile periodically.

The natural process involves a host of soil critters that specialize in breaking down the annual litter of fallen leaves, plant stalks, twigs and branches. Your pile of leaves is dinner for them, especially the bacteria and fungi. Critter life is good when surrounded by air, moisture and plenty to eat. These microorganisms will multiply and quickly get to work breaking down the pile. As long as these conditions exist in balance, the pile will stay actively decomposing into a form plant roots can use, building soil fertility.

Make your leaf collecting easy. Just lay down a plastic tarp or a drop cloth and rake the leaves on top. Then slide it over to your leaf pile, bin or other enclosure. This method is faster and more efficient than bagging leaves.

One final point -while turning the pile is a therapeutic activity for some, for others of us not so much. One of my favorite garden toys is a leaf blower that is also a leaf vacuum. In vacuum mode it crumbles up the dry, brittle leaves into shreds. Shredding leaves before you compost them makes it much easier to mix and turn the pile, and the consistency of the finished compost is uniformly fine.

This information was written by:  Minda Daughtry a horticulture agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Read more at: