How to recycle fall leaves by composting
Hopefully you are almost finished clearing the majority of the fallen tree limbs from your landscape created by our recent ice storm. Perhaps you were even able to chip some of your limbs and recycle them as mulch.
If you have not done so already, now it is time to begin thinking about what you will do with your fall leaves. Bagging leaves to go to the landfill is a waste of landfill space and a waste of a free garden resource. Instead of bagging and hauling them off this year, try recycling them as a mulch or creating compost with them.
Many gardeners rake fall leaves onto perennial beds as a winter mulch. Usually this works well, but sometimes heavy leaf mulches can suffocate your plants. Just be sure to use good judgment, just like any time you add a mulch layer, and do not cover plants too heavily.
If you have a large amount of leaves, you may consider buying (or renting) a leaf shredder or a vacuum-shredder. Vacuum-shredders suck up the leaves, chop them, and then collect them into a bag. Once leaves are shredded, you can use them as a mulch. Remember, however, that shredders, blowers and choppers work well only when the leaves are nice and dry. If leaves are wet, they can clog your equipment.
You also can mow over fallen leaves as often as necessary before they build up too deep. The chopped leaves return valuable organic matter and nutrients to the soil. If you use a mower with a bag attachment you can capture the chopped leaves and then distribute them as needed. They work well as an excellent mulch, compost additive, or can be worked into your vegetable garden.
If you have a compost pile or have been considering creating one, your leaves can be used as the carbon or “brown” layer in a pile to alternate with nitrogen containing “green” layers. Other materials you can add to your compost pile include most yard waste such as grass clippings, leaves, small twigs or chipped branches. Kitchen waste can include non-fat containing food scraps, produce and coffee grounds.
Be sure not to add large branches, fatty foods, grease, meats, dairy products, bones or any synthetic products such as plastics to your compost pile. Also avoid adding plants that appear to be diseased or have insect pests on them. Never add weeds that have gone to seed or any pet or human waste.
The time of compost completion varies according to the type and amount of materials used, the climate, the size and type of bin or pile used, and the amount of aeration or turning of the pile. With the correct carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, water and air, compost should be ready to use in four to six months. If the pile is turned more frequently, the compost should be ready more quickly. The smaller the individual pieces of material in the pile, the more surface area the microorganisms can work on, and the faster the materials will decompose.
Compost is ready when the temperature of the pile falls to ambient levels, the material is dark, crumbles easily, pieces are small and there is no odor.
The OSU Fact Sheet HLA 6448 “Backyard Composting in Oklahoma” can help you become a successful composter and can be found at osufacts.okstate.edu.
Email Julia Laughlin, Oklahoma County Extension horticulture educator, at email@example.com .