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WHY COMPOST

What is Compost?

Benefits of Composting

Using Finished Compost

Compost & Nutrition




SETTING UP YOUR SYSTEM

Composting Systems

Siting Your Compost Area

Stockpiling



COMPOSTING BASICS

What to Compost

Stages of Composting

The Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio

Compost Activators

Turning Your Compost



HOW TO COMPOST

Quick Start Guide

The Add-as-you-go Pile

The Batch Pile

Grass Clippings

Food Scraps

Leaves, Weeds &
Garden Debris

Compost Tea

Worm Composting



COMPOST PROBLEMS

Troubleshooting Guide

Ask Professor Rot


 
 



 

How to Compost
LEAVES, WEEDS & G
ARDEN DEBRIS

Professor Rot says:

Well over one-half of what you put in your compost bin is generated from yard waste.

So, it makes sense to be a resourceful backyard composter!

 

The very act of gardening means dealing with weeds, leaves and general garden waste accumulated from trimming, dead-heading, pruning, weeding and the like. Over one-half of a compost bin is organic matter generated directly from the yard and garden.

Our practical side says we can compost just about anything that looks like vegetation. For the most part this is true. But there are some cautions when composting certain garden waste. This page gives you some basic principles and tips when composting leaves, weeds and general garden debris.

LEAF STRATEGIES THAT WORK!

Every backyard environmentalist knows the incredible value of leaves for composting and general mulching purposes. Leaves are nature's most abundant recycling resource and are perfectly complemented when composted with weeds, garden debris and household food waste.

fall leaves

 

 

Fall allows the backyard composter an opportunity to stockpile an abundant amount of leaves for future months' worth of composting. Here are some good Leaf Strategies.

 

  • In terms of Carbon:Nitrogen (C:N) Ratio, leaves are rated anywhere from 40-80:1. This makes them mostly a Carbon or BROWN source. However, fresh leaves are also abundant in Nitrogen. Their Carbon abundance increases the more you allow them to dry out. Most books don't tell you this, but now you know. The key point is this: leaves perfectly complement kitchen waste, often creating an optimal C:N Ratio of around 30:1. When they are combined in a compost bin, the pile can heat up very quickly, with no added activator. Learn more about C:N Ratio.

  • Decayed leaves create what is called leaf mulch. The structure we used to know as a leaf breaks down into a loose lace-like texture that eventually decomposes quickly into the soil. Leaf mulch in bare soil will be pulled down into the soil by earthworms: it is their favorite food!

  • sugar mapleBag, store, or pile leaves near bin for use year-round in composting. This is called Stockpiling. It is also one of the most important strategies in backyard composting. Stockpiling is amazingly simple. Use bags to keep the leaves dry. You can also create hoops out of chickenwire or field fencing. Commercially made plastic hoops with holes are readily available and cheap. You can also arrange a few wooden pallets into an open-ended makeshift bin. Finally, you can simply pile them up and cover with a weatherproof tarp.

  • Large quantities can be mowed or shredded, speeding decomposition and using 1/4 the space! The quickest way to break down leaves so that they can quickly decompose into valuable leaf mulch is to shred them or simply mow over them up against a wall or fence (so that they blow out the mower's chute; or better yet, use the mower's bagger). Large leaves, like maples, if kept in a stockpile, will take a long time to turn to leaf mulch, perhaps 6 months to a year!

  • Use as a Fall or Spring mulch around plants and to amend soil. Leaf mulch is one of the most amazing additions to your soil. Worms love leaves, eat them and digest them into worm castings that enrich the soil tremendously. Do this in your yard and garden beds and you will be amazed at how rich your soil will become.
    round lawn

  • Use as general mulch for weed control and to keep soil moisture. Weeds love to take root in compacted and/or bare soil. This is why the concept of "cover cropping" is critical to gardening success, especially in the vegetable and flower beds. Bare soil exposed to full sun dries out quicker and becomes hard and cloddy. Mulched soil is soft, texturally rich and fluffy, what is called tilth or humus. It is alive and well. Furthermore, weeds have difficulty anchoring roots in such aerated soil. Therefore, they are easier to pull out.

  • Need leaves? Arrange for their free delivery by your municipal waste management department or a private yardcare business. During the gardening season there will be those voids where not enough BROWNs are readily available. Same goes with the GREENs. Take heart! Your community or neighbors may be able to come to the rescue by delivering what you need. Good advice!

 

USE CAUTION COMPOSTING THESE LEAVES!

 

Poisonous Leaves
These can harm soil life, so add very sparingly

Oleander
oleander
Hemlock
hemlock
Castor Bean
Castor Bean
Acid & Resin Leaves
These are toxic to other plants and soil life. Add sparingly or not at all
Eucalyptus
eculapyptus
Bay and Laurel
bay leaves
Juniper and Cypress
juniper
Acacia
acacia
pH Imbalancers
These raise the pH in soil, making alkaline soil
(abundant in semi-arid and arid climates) more alkaline.
Add sparingly
Cottonwood
cottonwood
Poplar
poplar
Ash
ash
Rhubarb
Use sparingly because its oxalic acid content lowers soil pH
rhubarb
Fibrous Leaves
These take a long time to break down because they are so fibrous and waxy.
Chop or shred thoroughly first.
Magnolia and Laurel
magnolia
Rhododendron
rhododendron

DISEASED & INSECT INFESTED LEAVES

Plant leaves with rust, fungus, mildew, or seriously infested with insect pests. Keep out of your compost bin. Best to take to the landfill.

A WORD ABOUT PINE NEEDLES

Pine needles can be composted, but they take a long time to decompose.
They have a waxy sheath and are acidic.

 

bin of weeds


WEED TIPS

  • TIP #1:   Compost equal parts fresh weeds (without seeds) as a GREEN with BROWN, such as leaves, OR 2 parts fresh weeds to 1 part dry leaves
  • TIP #2:   No Weed Gone to Seed should be put in your bin unless you can heat the pile to above 140°F (60°C) to kill (roast) the seeds so that they don't sprout in your garden soil
  • TIP #3:   Don't compost pernicious weeds or grasses such as morningglory, buttercups, bermuda grass, oxalis, quackgrass, crabgrass, etc.

 

garden debris
From Home Composting Made Easy by C. Forrest McDowell, PhD & Tricia Clark-McDowell
Copyright © 2007 by the authors

 

 

 



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