How Long Does It Take For Leaves To Decompose?

Every year I look at the leaves in my yard and think “what do I do with them?” Can I just leave them – will they decompose, and how long does it take? So, I did some research, and here’s what I’ve found about how long it takes for leaves to decompose.

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

However, the time for decomposition of leaves can vary depending on several factors such as air/oxygen, moisture, type of leaves, and green/brown leaves ratio.

Let’s take a look at some of these factors and what can you do to make sure your leaves properly decompose in your yard, and how you can use the compost for your yard.

How Long for Leaves to Decompose Naturally?

For leaves to decompose naturally it takes 6 to 12 months, if left somewhere in the woods or anywhere where you don’t keep providing a good environment for its decomposition.

Are you asking yourself what to do with all your leaves or grass before the winter? Should you convert your yard (garden) leaves into organic soil conditioner, or dispose of them in the garbage?

Well, you can do both, and you can use those leaves as a rich soil nutrient for your yard, as well.

How Long Does it Take for Leaves to Decompose_cover_photo

To do this, leaves need to have a moist environment and turned occasionally for the air and moisture to be present in the pile or compost bin, because it’s great for microorganisms responsible for decomposition. If it’s too hot, or too cold, it’s not ideal so the decomposition of leaves will last longer.

Sometimes, left on their own, it can take even longer, and if it’s somewhere in the woods then it doesn’t matter, but what if it’s in your yard? Left in the fall, will they stay there in the spring?

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

Yes, leaves will decompose over winter, because they biodegrade, but, whole leaves left during winter can kill your grass. If you don’t break them down into small pieces by mowing them with a good lawn mower, they will interfere with photosynthesis and can damage your grass horribly.

If properly treated the leaves will decompose by the spring, because you will shorten the time of the composting process by turning them into tiny bits, so they will be easier to get absorbed by the soil.

But, if you left whole leaves on your grass as they fell down, whole leaves can kill your grass over winter, and can even damage some plants.

Leaves on ground in cold

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 the leaves are broken down into smaller bits.

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 to 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 this way, your grass will be fine, and the soil will be richer in nutrients.

Do Leaves Actually Turn Into Soil?

Yes, they do! Leaves will turn into soil, but only if you chop them down into small bits and pieces, so they can be absorbed a lot faster.

As previously mentioned, whole leaves can make a moldy mess over winter, but a shredded 1-2 inch cover of mowed leaves is perfectly fine, they will decompose by spring and will act as nutrients for the soil.

Many people create compost because the leaves will biodegrade in a great soil addition for your yard or garden. To properly compost your autumn leaves they should be chopped up, moistened, and turned once or twice a month so that all the parts of your pile get enough air (check below).

How Do You Compost Leaves?

You can create a compost yourself, just follow a few simple rules.

Here is how to do it yourself:

  1. Spread the leaves around and mow them over to chop them up. This will break them down and make them easier to decompose.
  2. Pile them up or put them in a compost bin 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
  3. Pour the water over the leaves so they are damp and mix them up. Squeeze the leaves – if you can squeeze out a few drops of water then it has the correct amount of moisture in it.
  4. Turn the leaves every 2 to 3 weeks so that the moisture is evenly distributed, which provides all the areas of compost with air, and helps break down the leaves at an equal speed. Make sure there is always  some moisture in it.
3 bins for compost leaves

After the composting is finished, you can use it to amend the yard soil or to mulch around growing plants.

Compost added to soil can improve drainage on heavy soil, and it can help retain moisture and nutrients on sandy soil. You can compost them either in home compost or in municipal compost facilities.

That is how you can compost leaves yourself, and make sure your leaves decompose in time for spring. Here are some excellent tips when raking leaves for compost.

You can mix leaves with grass, or any other type of organic material which are easily biodegradable.

Here’s a helpful video on composting grass:

How to Compost Leaves Quickly

To compost leaves quickly, you can add some lime and fertilizer over the leaves, followed by some soil.

Yes, lime helps leaves decompose faster.

Here is how to compost leaves quickly:

  1. First, chop the leaves into smaller bits by mowing them
  2. Then, put 1 feet of leaves in a compost bin, which is 4 feet by 4 feet
  3. While creating a compost, for every 1 feet layer of leaves, add 1/3 cup each of lime and fertilizer on the leaves, followed by an inch of soil.
  4. Turn the leaves every 2 to 3 weeks, which provides aeriation in all the areas of compost, and helps break down the leaves at an equal speed. To check for moisture, squeeze the leaves – if you can squeeze out a few drops of water then it has the correct amount of moisture in it.

I found this to be the general advice to decompose leaves faster:

  • Chop them up! It’s like food for mother nature – if you chop it up, the faster the decomposition. You can mow them over to do this.
  • Pile them up and turn frequently! – do this to introduce air and even out the moisture throughout your leaf pile or compost bin
  • Mix green leaves with brown ones! – Good compost is made out of 50% brown material and 50% green material, but it’s not necessary if it’s moistened,
  • Keep them moist! – Your pile should be about as damp as a sponge that has been wrung out. If they are green leaves, then they are already a bit moist.

Is Leaf Compost Good for Vegetable Gardens

Fallen Leaves are good for the garden in many ways.

50 to 80 percent of all the nutrients from trees that are extracted from the ground end up in the leaves. They can make a great compost, mulch and fertilizer so that they can be used to benefit your garden in many ways.

Plant growing in the garden

A study by Michigan State University indicates that mulching is 100% beneficial for the lawn.

Spreading around the bases of plants and trees can help the growth and developments of a healthy plant tissue. Gathered at their peak and composted correctly, leaves will transfer this nutrition to your soil.

The compost is used to cover your plants or trees and cover the base of your plants or trees. It can be applied directly under trees shrubs and plantings to 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 will take away some of the nutrients from the plants.


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