Composting is an excellent way to utilize otherwise wasted scraps around your home. Although most folks use a combination of food waste, manures, grass clippings, leaves, and other organic materials around their homes, do you actually need all of these materials?
Can you simply use grass clippings and leaves from your yard? The answer is yes – you can use these two materials alone to create compost. However, if you’re shooting for a well-rounded compost pile, you might want to consider adding extra materials. We’ll explain this more in the following sections, so continue reading to learn more!
Can You Compost Just Grass And Leaves?
Technically speaking, you can compost grass clippings and leaves, but most of us have other scraps we can add to a compost pile. For instance, grass clippings will decompose on their own and return their nutrients to the lawn, provided you leave them there. The same thing happens with leaves – in a forest, the leaves fall to the ground, decompose, and disappear altogether.
So, you can make compost with solely these materials. You’ll need to balance the mixture properly, as too much of one material can be harmful. In addition, avoid adding grass that you’ve treated with commercial herbicides, as some of them don’t decompose for several months.
Once you have a nicely balanced compost pile of leaves and grass clippings, treat it like a regular compost pile. Keep the pile moist but not waterlogged, and turn it regularly.
How Do You Make Compost From Leaves And Grass?
Creating your own compost from leaves and grasses off your property is a fairly simple process that takes a few months to complete. Most of this time goes straight to the decomposition process and doesn’t require much effort from you. Here’s how to create a compost pile from grass and leaves:
Collect Your Materials
First things first, you’ll need to collect your materials. Harvest grass clippings off your lawn and gather leaves from your yard. As you mow your lawn, remember to take no more than ⅓ of the total grass height at one time, as cutting too much off can be detrimental to your lawn.
If you have a mower with a bag, attach the bag before starting the process. This will make the collection process go much smoother, as you won’t need to go back with a rake and collect the clippings. Of course, if you don’t have a bag for your mower, you can always mow your lawn as usual and go back and rake up the clippings. Empty the clippings as often as needed into a wheelbarrow (for easy transport).
Rake up the leaves on your lawn (preferably when dry, as dry leaves are easier to work with) and scoop them into a wheelbarrow. If you’re raking up the leaves as they fall, repeat the process each week, collecting the week’s worth.
While you can use whole leaves in your compost pile, it’s best to shred them before adding them to the pile. This way, the decomposition process can take place more rapidly.
Build The Pile
After gathering your materials, pick a spot for your compost pile. Ideally, you should choose an area out of constant direct sunlight but not under the shade of a large tree. Avoid placing the pile too close to your house (especially if you plan on adding food scraps), as some compost piles can attract pests that you don’t want in your home.
The corner of a yard, an unused corner of your garden, or any other unused space in your yard will work. You can build a three-sided structure (if you want) to hold in the pile and prevent spreading. Or, consider purchasing a compost bin to keep the pile in a contained area.
Ensure The Proper Balance
Deposit the clippings and leaves in a balanced mixture. Remember, you don’t want to add too much of either, as a good ratio is essential. If the grass clippings are still green, they’re considered green material. However, if the clippings are dried out and brown, they count as brown material.
Generally, the best ratio for browns to greens is 3:1. So add three parts browns for one part greens. This helps create a good balance of carbon and nitrogen, which allows for efficient decomposition without the process slowing due to high amounts of one.
Many folks have different ideas of the best carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for a compost pile, but the consensus seems to stick around 3 or 4 parts browns to 1 part greens.
As you start building your compost pile, you’ll want to layer the two materials. If you add large clumps of grass clippings or massive amounts of leaves at a single time, you’ll likely end up with areas that hold excessive moisture (grass clippings).
So, layer your compost pile. Add about six inches of browns (leaves), then 2 inches of greens (grass clippings), alternating between the two until you run out of material. Remember, if the grass clippings are browned and dried, they no longer count as greens, so plan accordingly.
You can add to your compost pile throughout the summer and fall, layering each material as you go. In the early stages of the summer, you might not have any leaves to add to your compost pile. So, let one week’s clippings dry out in a wheelbarrow and use them as your browns for the following week. Or, find an alternative “brown” material to use in place of leaves.
Turn And Water The Pile Regularly
Once your pile is layered and ready, it’ll take time to decompose. As the decomposition process continues, remember to turn the pile regularly. This helps avoid heavy clumps of clippings or leaves in the pile and ensures that it remains aerated.
Oxygen is an essential part of the process, so you need to turn the pile on a regular basis. Grass clippings often clump together, especially when wet, so break these up as you turn the pile.
In addition, water the pile regularly. An overly dry compost pile will decompose slowly, so it’s crucial to ensure it remains damp. Ideally, the compost should be similar to a damp, well-wrung rag. If you’re unsure if it’s too wet, grab a handful of the mixture and squeeze it: if more than a few drops fall out, it’s too wet, but if it crumbles, it’s too dry.
Continue turning the pile and watering it regularly to ensure proper aeration and moisture. Once it’s ready, use the nutrient-rich material for your garden, flower beds, or lawn.
Add Additional Materials
This step is entirely optional but helps create a more rounded compost pile. While you can make a compost pile with grass and leaves, adding other scraps from around your home can be beneficial. For example, if you have livestock (cattle, sheep, chickens, etc.), consider collecting their manure and adding it to the pile.
Or, set up a compost bucket on your kitchen counter to collect organic food scraps in a centralized location. You can add fruit pieces, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, and similar materials. Once the bucket fills up, bring it outside to your compost pile and incorporate it into the mix.
Of course, you’ll need to ensure your compost pile has a healthy balance of greens and browns for proper decomposition. So, avoid adding too much of one material that could upset the balance (such as coffee grounds).
How Long Does It Take Grass And Leaves To Compost?
Grass clippings and leaves have slightly different decomposition time frames. As mentioned, whole leaves take longer to decompose than shredded leaves. They can take as long as a few years to decompose, whereas shredded leaves usually break down within a few months.
On the other hand, grass clippings usually break down within a few months in a compost pile. If you leave your grass clippings on your lawn, they’ll decompose entirely within about a month. The nutrients will return to the soil, helping your lawn flourish. The process takes a bit longer when you add these clippings to your compost pile.