How to Make a Nutrient-Rich Fertilizer by Composting Leaves

How to Make a Nutrient-Rich Fertilizer by Composting Leaves | Diary of a DIYer

One of the best parts of fall is watching the trees change from vibrant shades of green to burnt hues of red, orange and yellow.

One of the worst? Raking leaves. It’s tedious and time-consuming, and don’t even try to attempt it on a windy day.

But this year, instead of bagging your leaves up and leaving them on the side of the road for pickup, try composting them. Composted leaves provide a rich fertilizer for your veggie and flower gardens. It’s a lengthy process which is why you should start now while you’re getting your yard ready for winter.

…And did I mention it’s free?

What is compost?

It’s a mixture of decomposed organic materials that makes a great addition to your soil. It provides good nutrients for plants and helps them grow.

Why use leaves? They’re available in abundance right now and act as a great source of carbon for compost (more on that later). Instead of bagging or burning them, recycle them into a compost pile.

Using leaf compost in your garden improves the structure your soil, no matter the type. It helps oxygenate clay-based soil and prevents sandy soil from drying out and retains moisture. Leaf compost can also repel weeds from growing as well.

What You’ll Need

Designated Compost Area

Whether it’s a piling your compost in a corner of your yard or building your own compost bin, you’ll want to have a designated area to make sure your leaves and other materials will be able to decompose without being bothered.

Browns, Greens and Water

You can’t just pile leaves in a garbage bin and hope for the best.

Enter carbon and nitrogen (or, the browns and the greens). Carbon-rich compost materials (the browns) make up the bulk of the compost pile. The ‘greens’ are rich with nitrogen and help heat up the pile, speeding up the decomposition process. You’ll need just the right mix of both your browns and greens – many say 4:1 browns to greens is a good ratio.

Leaf compost needs to stay moist. If it’s too dry or too wet, the mixed materials can’t break down. A good rule of them is when you press down on your pile, it should feel like a damp sponge.

Need ideas for what browns and greens to add? I made a compost cheat sheet to help you out!

Shredding Tools

You can shred your leaves with a leaf shredder, but a more cost-effective route is using your lawn mower or pruning shears. Smaller pieces speed up the decomposition process and also make it easier to turn your pile. 


To prevent your compost heap from drying out, cover it with a small tarp to hold in moisture and warmth.


And now you wait.

How long? I’d give it a good several months – which is why you should start the process as soon as you can.

In the meantime, be sure to turn your compost pile every two weeks to evenly distribute the decomposing material with any new ingredients you add to your compost concoction.

Once your leaf compost is a rich, dark color, it should be ready to use.

Now that prime leaf-raking season is upon us, will you be composting your leaves this fall? Let me know in the comments below!

Infographic vector designed by Freepik.

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