fall landscape

In the fall we have a lot of leaves to remove from our lawns. It is not a good practice to leave the fallen leaves on the lawn as it can lead to snow mold if we get a lot of snow that sits on top of the leaves on the lawn. We can mow over the leaves to help reduce that problem, but if you want to get rid of your leaves in another manner, a compost pile is a good way to reuse these leaves and grass clippings.

A compost pile is a good way to recycle fallen leaves and spent garden plants at the end of the season. You can put many types of organic materials into a compost pile and then use that in the spring to amend your garden soil and help with fertility for your plants. Composting is a good way to save money by avoiding purchasing other organic matter to use in your garden and avoiding payments for removal of your yard wastes.

Many materials can be put into a compost pile. Some of these items include:

  • Leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Straw
  • Non-woody plant trimmings
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Sawdust
  • Remains of garden plants
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Hay
  • Cornstalks
  • Chopped corncobs
  • Wood ashes

Certain things cannot be placed in a compost pile because they do not or cannot break down in a compost pile or they may draw the attention of wildlife which can cause many other problems.  Do NOT compost:

  • Any plant materials that were diseased, or infested with insects or weeds as those things may not die in a compost pile
  • Grass clippings that have been treated with pesticides
  • Pet feces
  • Meat products
  • Fatty foods
  • Whole eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Peanut butter
Compost Pile; Photo from Cornell University

Compost piles can be made as just a pile in the yard or it can be placed in a holding unit or a turning bin or even just in a trashcan. The pile should be at least 3 feet long, wide, and tall and it needs to be no taller than 5 feet. The pile should be moist, but not too wet. A good recommendation for this is that it should be comparable to a wrung-out sponge.

The compost pile should be started in layers to help with decomposition.

  1. 4-6 inches of chopped brush or coarse material to help with air circulation
  2. 3-4 inches of damp, low carbon, organic material such as grass clippings
  3. 4-6 inches of high carbon, damp, organic material such as leaves or garden waste
  4. 1 inch of soil or finished compost
  5. Optional layer of 2-3 inches of manure for nitrogen content

After the initial building of the compost pile and that material has begun to decompose, the process is fairly simple. You need to turn the materials often enough to keep the temperature between 110-114 degrees Fahrenheit and to make sure that all parts of the pile eventually end up in the middle to get hot enough to break down. You also need to ensure that the moisture content is correct throughout the process. Additional water may be needed to keep the pile going. As you turn the pile, you can add other items from your garden or your kitchen.

Your compost is ready to use when it has an earthy odor, when it cools off, and when it is dark and crumbly. At this time, it can be tilled into your garden to help reduce compaction and to add nutrients back into the soil.

Finished compost-UFlorida
Finished Compost; Photo by Robert Trawick, University of Florida Extension




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