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Don't burn - compost leaves

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Don't burn - compost leaves
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Most trees are in the process of dropping their leaves and the slightest breeze will cause the lawn to be covered with newly fallen leaves.


If they are not too thick on the grass, they can be mulched with the lawnmower and allowed to decay. However, large volumes of fallen leaves are causing homeowners to search for ways to dispose of the leaves they have raked up.

Although some communities have community compost sites, there are laws that limit dumping leaves into public landfills as well as laws that prohibit burning make that it necessary that homeowners find alternative methods of disposal.

  An excellent method of disposing of leaves is to compost them. You not only have a place to dispose of the leaves, but also gain a valuable asset for your gardens in the form of soil amendment.

Gardeners have long used compost to successfully improve the physical condition of the soil and to add some nutrients for plant growth. Compost will help sandy soils hold both moisture and nutrients while improving drainage in heavier soils.

All of this makes composting an excellent way to recycle leaves, grass clippings, and other garden debris while being environmentally responsible.

The microorganisms responsible for the decomposition of leaves and yard waste require oxygen, water and nitrogen. If the microorganisms responsible for decomposing the compost receive insufficient oxygen, some decomposition will occur in the absence of oxygen, but the process is much slower and foul odors may develop. Materials to be composted will break down more rapidly if they are shredded or chopped into smaller pieces. Leaves can be chopped by simply piling them up and running over them with a lawnmower.

To save space while keeping your yard looking neat and shortening composting time, plan to enclose your compost in some type of structure. Compost bins can be very elaborate structures made of treated lumber or much simpler structures made of woven wire, wooden pallets, concrete blocks or similar materials.

Locate your compost bin in a site near where it will be used and where it will not offend neighbors. The compost pile will work best if protected from drying winds, but is heated by at least partial sunlight.

In addition to leaves, many organic materials can be composted. Such materials include non-woody shrub trimmings, faded flowers, green weeds, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable peelings and even shredded black and white newsprint.

Although grass clippings can be composted, it is better to mow regularly and allow the clippings to remain on the lawn than to collect and compost them. Avoid putting pet feces, meat, bones, grease, whole eggs, dairy products and other materials that will attract rodents into the compost bin. Do not add diseased or insect infested plants or weeds laden with ripe seeds.

Build your compost pile in layers, beginning with 8 to 10 inches of leaves, grass or plant trimmings. Water it so that it is moist, but not soggy, and add about a half-cup of high nitrogen fertilizer without weed killer per 25 feet of surface area.

If available, a two-inch layer of livestock manure will make a good nitrogen source and can be substituted for the nitrogen fertilizer. Repeat these layers until the pile reaches a height of five feet, watering each time you add a new layer. Turn the material in the pile once or twice a month to speed decomposition and minimize odors.

A well managed compost pile or bin will convert all of your leaves into excellent compost in two to four months. An untended pile will take a year or more to decompose.

An excellent 12-page publication entitled Composting and Mulching: A Guide to Managing Organic Yard Wastes is available for a nominal cost at all the finer Extension Offices. This publication is an excellent source of information for both the beginner and the more experienced composter.

For more information on this, or other topics, contact me at the Polk County office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at

Source: Carl Hoffman, Stearns County Extension Service.