How Long Does It Take For Leaves To Decompose?

As autumn starts setting in and the leaves of deciduous trees fall to the ground, the arduous task of raking them up to keep your lawn and pathways looking clear begins.

Removing leaves isn’t only a matter of aesthetics though, as the rain and frost that the autumn months bring with them can turn them into a dangerous slip hazard.

This is why it’s a super important job. But, as you embark on the daily task of raking your leaves up, the question of what to do with them once they’ve been collected comes to mind. 

Can you add them to your compost pile? How long does it take for leaves to decompose? And what can leaf compost be used for once it’s ready? 

We’ve got the answers to these burning questions and more below, along with some useful information and tips on what to do with the autumn leaves that have found their way into your outdoor space.

 

How long does it take for leaves to decompose naturally?

A fallen leaf that’s been left on the ground will usually take somewhere between 6-12 months to decompose naturally. This is because, as winter takes hold, the humid environment that microorganisms need to decompose the leaves isn’t available.

As such, the whole process slows down. 

Leaves that have been raked into a pile on your lawn will take slightly less time to decompose as the core temperature of the pile will be higher than the outside temperature.

This means that the microorganisms are kept nice and cozy, and can get on with breaking them down into smaller pieces. 

Much like a large compost heap, a pile of leaves does need to be turned from time to time to keep everything healthy and to ensure that the process of breaking down the leaves runs smoothly. If left unturned, the process of decomposition will take a lot longer.

How long does it take for leaves to decompose in a compost bin?

Fallen leaves that have been added to a compost bin will take between 3-6 months to decompose on average. This is much faster than those that have been left outdoors in a pile, but why is this?

It’s all due to the fact that the internal temperature of your compost bin will be much higher overwinter than that of a pile of leaves facing outdoor temperatures. The result of these higher temperatures is happier microorganisms, which equals a faster rate of decomposition. 

The leaves inside a compost bin will also need to be turned every few weeks, but this is easier since they are better protected from the elements. This means that there isn’t a constant battle between keeping the outer layer of your compost pile dry and keeping the internal temperature high. 

How do you compost leaves?

Gathering leaves and turning them into fantastic compost that you can add to your garden in the spring is actually a fairly straightforward process. Take a look at our step by step guide below.

  1. Rake up any fallen leaves from your lawn, pathways, and other areas of your garden
  1. Spread them fairly evenly across one area of your garden, then use a mower with a collection basket to run over them. This will shred them into smaller pieces that will be easier for the microorganisms in your compost bin to breakdown.
  1. Either place them straight into your compost bin or, if you prefer the heap-method, pile them up high in a sheltered area of your garden
  1. If the leaves are dry, pour a little water over the top of your compost bin to moisten them 
  1. Turn the leaves every 2-3 weeks and make sure that there is always plenty of moisture in your compost bin. This process will help them breakdown faster and will create air pockets that your microorganisms need in order to survive

And that’s it, it’s really that simple! You can start adding leaves to your compost bin as soon as they begin to fall, otherwise, you rake them all up into a pile and wait until you’ve got enough to do it all in one go. 

What can I do with composted leaves?

Composted leaves have several fantastic uses around the garden. The most popular use for them is as an early spring mulch that can be laid around perennial plants and shrubs, where it will add nutrients to the soil that they can feed on and use to bloom healthily that same year.

You can also use leaf compost to add nutrients to raised beds in your vegetable garden, improve the soil structure in your existing soil, and, in a ‘circle of life’ kind of way, mulch around the base of trees to help improve soil-water retention ahead of summer. 

Do I need to compost fallen leaves?

Whilst there’s no real need to compost the leaves that have fallen in your garden, it would be a good thing to do if you have the opportunity to and means to do so.

Leaf compost is among the most nutrient-rich soil additives you could ever need, and creating your own for free will save you a lot of money and give you that feeling of satisfaction. 

If you decide not to compost your leaves, it’s still very important to rake them up from your lawn as soon as they begin falling.

This is because whole leaves that are left in place over winter can actually kill the grass they’ve fallen onto, and in some cases can even cause irrevocable damage.

This is due to the fact that they completely block out sunlight and reduce frost evaporation, which can lead to fungi and bacteria setting into the soil and causing the roots to rot away.

If you don’t intend on using any of your fallen leaves, you’ll be surprised at how eager a friend or neighbor might be to snap up these little nutritious pieces of garden gold and take them off your hands for you. 

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