Trench Composting Leaves: Is it a Good Method?

Trench composting leaves

Are you surrounded by deciduous trees that drop leaves? If so, it’s time to learn about making use of this free material by trench composting leaves.

Trench composting involves digging a hole or trench, filling it with organic material, and then topping with a layer of native soil. While you can use this method to compost all types of organic materials, I’m going to focus on leaves in this post.

Leaves are a superb source of organic material. If you’ve ever walked around the forest and pulled back the surface layer of leaves, you’ve seen how they break down and improve the soil. By taking a note from nature and composting leaves, we can improve our home soils.

And since each acre of forest produces about two tons of leaves each year, leaves are in abundant supply. So, let’s learn about how to trench compost leaves.

Short Answer: Trench Composting Leaves: Is it a Good Method?

As we all know, the word good is subjective. In some ways, trench composting leaves is a great method and in other ways it’s not the best.

Trench composting is great because it doesn’t require a lot of labor nor tools. Another benefit is that you don’t have to spend time and energy moving the finished compost; the leaves break down where you want the finished product to go.

One major drawback of trench composting leaves is that it is slower than methods such as forming and turning a compost pile.

How Do You Trench Compost?

3 steps of trench composting leaves

Trench composting involves three main steps: digging a trench/hole, filling the trench with organic materials, and covering. Here’s how to get started with trench composting leaves.

1.   Dig a trench or hole.

The great thing about trench composting is that you compost material in the same place you want to improve the soil. Therefore, pick an area where you’d like to plant a garden in 3-6 months.

After selecting a location, dig a trench or hole that is at least one foot deep and up to three feet deep. The trench can be as long and wide as you like.

Before you dig, make sure to check for underground utilities! You don’t want to hit an electric or sewer line with your shovel.

2.   Fill the trench with leaves.

After you’ve dug your trench, the next step is to fill it with leaves. Gather leaves and fill the trench, leaving 6-12 inches of the trench unfilled.

Since leaves are a brown material, it doesn’t hurt to add some high nitrogen materials such as manure or feather meal to your leaves. While this will make a more balanced compost, it isn’t a necessary step.

3.   Finish filling the trench with soil.

After you’ve filled the majority of the trench with leaves, it’s time to cover the leaves up with soil. When you’re finished, the top of the trench should be level with the surrounding area.

Detailed pros and cons of trench composting leaves

Now that you know the basics of trench composting leaves and whether it’s a good method or not, let’s dive into some details about this method. Consider the following pros and cons to help you decide if this method is a good fit for you.


It prevents landfill waste.

Yard waste in landfill

Did you know that green lawn waste such as leaves accounts for more than 6% of all landfill waste? It’s estimated that about 25% of this lawn waste is leaves.

The good news is that more municipalities are collecting green waste to compost rather than send to landfills. Whether your town offers green waste composting or not, you can always compost leaves at home.

You don’t need any specialized equipment.

The only equipment you need to trench compost is a shovel and a body capable of digging! This means that this method is low-cost.

You don’t have to worry about wind nor water.

As we all know, leaves love to blow away. It seems that as soon as we rake them into a pile, a gust of wind swoops in and blows them away.

Compost leaves in a pile

If you are trying to compost leaves in a compost pile, it’s important that you keep them adequately moist. If you don’t, they are apt to blow away or compost slowly.

There are no odors.

While a properly maintained compost pile won’t smell, not everyone has a perfect pile. Since trench composting involves burying the materials, there aren’t any odors.


You need to dig.

While digging doesn’t require a lot of tools, it still presents some challenges.

First off, you need a place you can dig! If you live in a rental property, your landlord might not be thrilled with you digging up the yard. And if you live in an apartment, you might not have access to a yard.

Another issue with digging is that it requires an able body. Therefore, trench composting isn’t the best composting method if you aren’t able or willing to dig.

The process takes at least a few months.

While the hands-on time for forming a trench is minimal, the leaves won’t break down for at least a few months after you form the pile. You can speed up the process by shredding the leaves, but they will still take at least two months to break down.

Therefore, trench composting isn’t the best method if you’re working with limited workable garden space. If you only have a small area to garden, you don’t want to put the area out of production while you wait for the trenched leaves to break down.

Final Thoughts

As you’ve read above, trench composting leaves can be a great way to utilize leaves to improve your soil. It’s not the quickest way to compost, but it’s simple and requires limited labor and tools.

No matter if you choose trench composting or another method, it’s a great idea to compost leaves that would otherwise head to landfills. Both the Earth and your plants will thank you.

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