Leaf Composting for Lawn Mulch

With most lawn mowers, you can safely mow up to 6 inches of leaves at a time.
With most lawn mowers, you can safely mow up to 6 inches of leaves at a time. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Rather than raking up leaves and placing them in the compost bin for someone else to use, you can save the leaves for your own yard. Leaf composting is an easy, eco-friendly method of reusing your leaves and improving your lawn in the process. Preparing the leaf compost as lawn mulch helps the leaves decompose into your lawn more efficiently than just letting the leaves rest where they fall.

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How to Compost Leaves

Turning leaves into true compost takes at least a year. After raking your leaves, use a leaf shredder, weed trimmer or lawn mower to shred them and let them decompose over the course of about a year. You can place them in a bin to get them out of the way, adding kitchen and yard waste if desired.If you leave the leaves without shredding them, they'll decompose within about three years. Keeping the leaves wet can speed up the process. The leaf compost is ready to use when it has become a crumbly, dirtlike material. This type of compost is an excellent conditioner for lawn soil, which absorbs water as mulch and helps the dirt hold onto the water more effectively.

Using Leaves as Mulch

If you want to create a thick mulch for your lawn, you don't need to wait for leaves to decompose into traditional compost. Simply mow over fallen leaves a couple of times to shred them and let them feed your lawn over the course of a few days, before they disappear into the ground. This can keep the soil moist, help prevent your lawn from freezing in winter, add nutrients to your lawn and keep weeds from springing up uninvited.

Leaf Compost Pros and Cons

Leaf compost or mulch helps a lawn absorb and retain water. It also encourages activity from soil organisms, such as earthworms, to aid the decomposition process of fertilizers. However, although leaf compost adds carbon to a lawn, it lacks the most important nutrient lawns need -- namely nitrogen, which encourages green growth. To remedy this, you'll need to add nitrogen from grass clippings or a standard fertilizer if you intend for the leaf compost to fertilize your lawn.


Compost only the leaves from your own yard, because leaves from the street may contain oil, fuel and other residues that can contaminate some plants, particularly vegetables. If placing the leaves in a compost bin to decompose, make sure that the bin is at least 3 by 3 by 3 feet for optimal oxygenation. Also, bins that are more than 6 feet in diameter can cause decomposition to take longer, as oxygen may have trouble moving through the compost.


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