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Autumn Leaves – Compost or Mulch?

Composting Autumn Leaves

Yeah, I know it is the middle of January and I am still tending to autumn leaves. I have so many trees on and around my property that it seems like I rake leaves for months. In my defense I did take care of all the leaves in the front yard, side yard and immediately behind the house in the back yard before Thanksgiving. But there are many more leaves behind the main paths of the backyard that still need to be raked.

During the fall, I do see bags and bags of leaves piled up by my neighbors for the trash. But I haven’t given the trash men one leaf since moving into this house. In the front yard, I vacuum all the leaves up using a leaf blower/vacuum. I collect the leaves in the attached bag and then spread them as mulch around the trees and in garden beds. In areas that have gotten a little weedy, I spread newspaper and then layer the shredded leaves on top of the paper. It makes a great weed barrier.

Once I’ve gotten all the beds covered, trees surrounded and weedy areas covered in shredded leaves, I then start adding them to the compost pile. I have a few of these wire bins that work perfectly to collect my excess leaves –

I take the shredded leaves from the vacuum bag and dump them into the wire compost bins. I keep a hose or watering can nearby because as I add more leaves to the bin I water each layer. It is important that the shredded leaves are damp before add the next layer of leaves.

On mild days throughout the winter, I will go out to the leaf piles and turn them. The fourth side of the bin slides off and I can easily set it up next to the pile to accept the turned leaves. I make sure I have the watering can nearby during this task too. Because as I add the leaves to the reestablished bin, I add water to dampen the leaves. Turning the pile, fluffs up the leaves provided much needed oxygen to the decomposing process.

Granted, turning a few piles of leaves is a tedious and labor-intensive process but it is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise on a mild winter day.

I don’t have much grass on the property – grass does not grow well under all these trees. So, I rely on my neighbors who don’t compost to add their grass clippings each week. During the spring and summer, I collect the grass clippings from my neighbors or they deliver them. Then I turn the piles and incorporate the grass clippings as layers into the shredded leaves. By the end of the summer, I have fresh compost to add the the beds before then next season of leaves begin to fall.