Composting is an excellent way for the average gardener to improve their soil without relying on chemical fertilizers. It has a variety of benefits that help the earth and the plants you’re trying to grow.
A healthy mix of green and brown material is important for a balanced compost. Materials like grass clippings and leaves are an important part that should be added to compost to increase the available nutrients in the soil and retain moisture.
The smaller a material is when it enters a compost pile, the faster it will decompose. The same goes for leaves, which should be shredded to help promote faster decomposition. But how exactly should you go about shredding your leaves?
Let’s take a look at six simple methods for shredding leaves for compost.
Use a Lawn Mower
Using a lawn mower is a simple and effective way to shred dry leaves for leaf compost. The blades of the mower will quickly shred the leaves into small pieces that the compost pile will break down easily.
Although not necessary, the addition of a lawn mower bag will help you efficiently collect the shredded leaves for easy transport to your compost pile.
In order to shred leaves with a lawn mower, first, you need to adjust the blade, so it is as low to the ground as possible. Then, run the mower back and forth over the pile of leaves until the pieces are sucked up into the lawn mower bag, or they have been shredded into a fine mulch material that can be added to the compost with a rake or by hand.
Use a String Trimmer
A string trimmer is another useful lawn maintenance tool that can be used to shred leaves into mulch.
In order to turn dead leaves into compostable mulch with a string trimmer, it is important to first collect fallen leaves and transfer them to a large container like a medium-sized empty garbage can. This will keep the leaves contained while the string trimmer is in use.
Then, simply insert the string timer into the can and turn it on to begin shredding the leaves. Move the trimmer around to get all of the leaves, and before you know it, you will have a compostable pile of shredded leaves that can be quickly dumped into your compost.
Use a Leaf Shredder
A less common piece of equipment that can help turn fallen leaves into compostable material is a leaf shredder. This tool comes in a variety of gas and electric-powered models, as well as stationary and smaller handheld options.
Leaf shredders have blades, usually made of metal, which spin rapidly in order to turn leaves into small pieces. Each shredder has a mulching ratio which describes how much it will reduce the leaves’ size. For example, a ratio of 18:1 means the shredder will turn 18 bags of dried leaves into mulch small enough to fit into one bag.
If you’re using a leaf shredder for composting purposes, you will want to look for a shredder with a high composting ratio to ensure the pieces are small enough to decompose properly.
Use a Leaf Vacuum
Leaf vacuums are similar to leaf shredders in their functionality. However, this tool will suck up the dry leaves and shred them as they enter a detachable bag. This tool is made for cleaning and shredding smaller piles of leaves.
Similar to a leaf shredder, you want a leaf vacuum that has a high mulching ratio. Most leaf vacuums have a ratio between 10:1 or 16:1.
Use Your Car
If you don’t own any fancy lawn maintenance tools and are wondering how to shred leaves for compost mulch, fear not. You can use your car just as easily.
Simply rake two narrow piles of leaves in your driveway as far apart as the width of your car. Then drive slowly back and forth over the piles of leaves a few times until the leaves have been broken down into small, compostable pieces.
Rake up the mulch and place it onto a tarp or into a bag to transport it to your compost pile.
Jump on the Leaves
Jumping on piles of leaves is a fun, family-friendly fall activity that will make lasting memories and shred leaves in one go.
For this method of shredding leaves to work, the leaves need to be extremely dry. Collect the dried leaves into a large pile or bag them up, and then get to work jumping on them. When the leaves have been broken down into small pieces, add them to the compost pile.
How to Compost Leaves
Whether you are composting in the backyard or composting for a large farm, it is important to know how to properly compost leaves.
As we’ve discussed, shredded leaves are the best way to ensure this material breaks down quickly and provides the soil with the appropriate nutrients. Once shredded, these leaves can be added to the compost pile and topped with material like food scraps and yard waste. It should be turned at least once a month.
Leaf mold is another way to compost leaves. This method involves making a separate pile solely for leaves, either in a loose pile or in a wire bin, dampening them, and then letting them sit to decompose.
After about 6 months, the finished leaf mold will be dark, crumbly, and black. It can be used as leaf mulch directly in the garden or flower beds or tilled into the soil.
Leaf mold is an excellent soil amendment that lacks the nutrients available from a compost pile. So you’ll need to combine the two for the best results. However, it retains soil moisture and makes a good home for soil life like earthworms and microbes.
How long does it take for shredded leaves to compost?
In general, it can take between 3 to 6 months for shredded leaves to break down in a compost pile. The smaller the leaves are when they enter the pile, as well as the addition of nitrogen-rich organic material like grass clippings, will speed up decomposition.
Unshredded leaves take between 1 to 3 years to break down entirely, which is why it is so important to shred them before adding them to the pile or compost bin.
What leaves are not good for compost?
Composting with leaves and other yard waste is relatively straightforward. However, there are a couple of types of leaves that should not enter your compost pile if you want it to be successful.
Leaves that are lower in nitrogen and calcium, such as holly, beech, or oak leaves, are not the best options for composting. These leaves have a high lignin content which contributes to the thickness of the leaves and binds to nitrogen, making it difficult for plants to decompose.
Composting is the best way to provide your garden soil with the nutrients it needs without resorting to man-made fertilizers and chemicals. Regardless of the shredding tool or compost method you use, shredding leaves before introducing them to the pile or compost bin will speed up decomposition.
Before you know it, you will have hearty compost that will help provide your garden or flower beds with rich, fertile soil.