How Long Does It Take For Leaves To Decompose? (Key Facts)

The type of leaf, the specific environment in which it falls, and the microorganisms present play a significant role in determining the decomposition rate. In general, it can take anywhere from several months to a few years for leaves to fully decompose.

It takes 3-6 months for leaves to decompose in a compost bin, ready to be used for your yard. Dumping them somewhere on a pile without turning them over or creating a moist environment takes about one year or longer.

Factors such as moisture and temperature can affect the rate of decomposition. In a compost pile, leaves can decompose faster due to microorganisms and proper aeration and moisture.

How Long Does it Take for Leaves to Decompose_cover_photo

How Long for Leaves to Decompose Naturally?

In a natural setting like a forest, where leaves benefit from consistent moisture and microbial activity, the decomposition typically ranges between 6 to 12 months.

Moisture, temperature, and other organic matter can affect the decomposition rate. For example, leaves that fall in a forested area with high moisture and rich soil will decompose faster than those that fall on a dry, barren hillside.

As autumn approaches and the leaves begin to fall, you may wonder what to do with all the leaves and grass in your yard. One option is to convert them into an organic soil conditioner for your garden. Another option is to dispose of them in the garbage.

However, did you know that you can also use these leaves as a rich source of nutrients for your yard?

To turn your leaves and grass into a soil conditioner, you must create a moist environment. This can be done by regularly turning the leaves and grass in a compost pile or bin.

This will allow for proper aeration and moisture, which is essential for the microorganisms responsible for decomposition. It’s important to note that if the pile or bin is too hot or too cold, it will not be ideal for the decomposition process and will take longer.

Will Leaves Decompose Over Winter (will they kill grass?)

While leaves continue to decompose during winter, the drop in temperature significantly slows down this process, stretching it out over a longer period.

The decomposition process relies on active microorganisms at a slower rate in cold weather. The leaves will break down, but they will take longer than they would in warmer temperatures.

Leaves left on top of the grass during the winter can suffocate the grass and prevent it from receiving the necessary sunlight, water, and nutrients. The decomposing leaves can also create an acidic environment that can harm the grass.

It is recommended to remove the leaves from the grass before the winter or to use a mulching mower to shred them and leave them on top of the lawn to act as a fertilizing layer.

Leaves will decompose over the winter through a process called biodegradation, but whole leaves left on the grass can suffocate and harm it.

Whole leaves will block the sunlight and reduce water evaporation, which can cause fungus, mold, and disease. These can wipe out the lawn in one year. Left on their own, your leaves may not decompose over winter because decomposition happens faster if they are broken down into smaller bits.

To prevent this, it’s recommended to shred the leaves with a mulching mower or remove them before winter. Shredded leaves can act as a natural fertilizing layer and break down faster. However, if whole leaves are left on the lawn, they can interfere with photosynthesis, suffocate the grass and even damage other plants over the winter.

Leaves on ground in cold

To prevent your leaves from damaging your grass over winter, mow them over (several times) with a mulch-type lawn mower to break them down into smaller bits so they can get absorbed faster in the dirt and act as nutrients. An inch or two of shredded leaves can be left on your lawn in autumn, so your grass will be fine, and the soil will be richer in nutrients.

Do Leaves Actually Turn Into Soil Over Winter?

While leaves undergo decomposition in winter, they eventually integrate with the soil, contributing to its organic content.

Decomposition is the breaking down of organic matter by microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi. These microorganisms break down the leaves into smaller and simpler compounds, such as carbon dioxide and water.

This process is slower in the colder winter months, but it still occurs. The leaves will break down over time and eventually become part of the soil. However, it’s important to note that leaves alone will not turn into soil, they will break down into organic matter that will enrich the soil and improve its structure and fertility.

To turn leaves into soil, you will need to add other organic matter, such as grass clippings, food scraps, and manure, and mix them together to create compost. Then the compost can be added to the soil to improve its fertility.

How Do You Compost Leaves?

Composting leaves can be a simple and effective way to create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. Here are some steps you can take to compost leaves successfully:

  1. Begin by chopping or shredding the leaves. Using a mower or a specialized leaf shredder will expedite the process.
  2. Pile the leaves in a compost bin or pile that is at least 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The pile should be slightly damp but not waterlogged.
  3. Mix the leaves with other organic materials such as grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds. A ratio of about 25-30 parts carbon-rich materials (leaves) to 1 part nitrogen-rich materials (food scraps) is ideal for healthy compost.
  4. Turn the pile every 2-4 weeks using a pitchfork or compost aerator to ensure that the pile has enough oxygen to support the microorganisms that break down the leaves.
  5. Keep the pile moist but not waterlogged. The pile should be damp, like a wrung-out sponge.
  6. Monitor the temperature of the pile. If it gets too hot, it is a sign that the compost is getting too dry and needs moisture or is too nitrogen-rich. In that case, you can add more carbon-rich materials to balance it. If it is too cool, it is a sign that the pile is too wet and needs more air.
  7. Once the leaves have broken down, and the compost has a rich, dark color and a crumbly texture, it is ready to be added to your garden.

3 bins for compost leaves

After the composting, you can use it to amend the yard soil or mulch around growing plants. Compost added to the soil can improve drainage on heavy soil and help retain moisture and nutrients in sandy soil.

Here’s a helpful video on composting with grass clippings:

Is Leaf Compost Good for Vegetable Gardens

Using leaf compost in vegetable gardens is a game-changer. This organic resource not only enriches the soil but also promotes better plant growth.

When trees extract nutrients from the ground, they can be found in fallen leaves. As such, leaves can make excellent compost, mulch, and fertilizer that can benefit your garden in many ways.

One study by Michigan State University found that mulching with leaves is 100% beneficial for lawns. This is because the leaves help to retain moisture in the soil, suppress weed growth, and provide insulation for the roots of the plants.

When leaves are gathered at their peak and composted correctly, they can transfer valuable nutrients to your soil. This can be particularly beneficial for vegetable gardens, as it can help to improve soil structure and fertility.

The compost can be spread around the bases of plants and trees, which can help to promote the growth and development of healthy plant tissue.

Leaf compost can also cover the base of your plants or trees, which can help protect the soil and provide insulation from the cold. You can pile as much as you want on it, and sometimes it’s important to do so, as rain and snow can take away some of the nutrients from the plants.

Overall, leaf compost is an excellent resource for vegetable gardens, as it can help to promote healthy plant growth, improve soil structure, and provide insulation from the cold.


Can leaves be used as a direct mulch?

Leaves can serve as an effective mulch when shredded. Whole leaves might form a barrier preventing moisture from reaching the soil, while shredded leaves facilitate water permeation and decompose faster, enriching the soil in the process.

Do pine needles decompose slower than other leaves?

Pine needles have an acidic nature and a tough structure that causes them to decompose at a slower rate compared to many other leaves. However, as they break down, they can acidify the soil, benefiting certain plants.

Is it a good idea to bag leaves for decomposition?

Using bags can expedite the decomposition process for leaves when the right conditions are maintained. It’s essential to ensure the bag has air holes and that the leaves inside remain slightly moist, fostering a favorable environment for decomposition.

  • Alex Mitch

    Hi, I'm the founder of! Having been in finance and tech for 10+ years, I was surprised at how hard it can be to find answers to common questions in finance, tech and business in general. Because of this, I decided to create this website to help others!