As a rule, leaves being used for composting of making leafmold should be shredded this exposes a greater surface area, reduces the risk of the leaves matting and reduces the bulk.
Mixing the leaves with grass or another
good source of nitrogen will speed decomposition. If a shredder is not available two processes can be combined by spreading the leaves of the lawn and mowing them
To cold compost leaves in a dalek type bin , use 50-70% (by volume) leaves and 30-50%
of high nitrogen ensuring the carbon rich leaves are well mixed with the nitrogen rich food scraps, vegetable leaves, grass etc. and other materials in the bin.
If hot composting leaves, the compost bin should be
at least one cubic meter (3 cubic feet) to break retain the heat and help the leaves decompose more quickly. When using leaves when hot composting I follow a 6-8” layer of leaves with a 1-2” layer of manure as two of the brown and green layers
when constructing a bin using alternat layers of green and browns. Others suggest using thinner layers of leaves. Some add a layer of soil between the leaves and manure. If manure is not available another nitrogen rich layer may be used such as
dried blood, or bone meal.
An alternative method is to make a normal layered compost pile using layers of 4-5 parts leaves to one-part green garden or kitchen waste. The material is initially mixed and aerated 1-2
times a week. Additional greens can be added when the contents are turned to prolong the active stage and maintain the temperature.
Alicia Bodine in a Home Guide by Demand Media recommends the following composting method which uses pine
needles. Starting with an empty compost bin fill approximately 8 inches grass clippings, or any other green waste from plants in the garden. Water until moist but not sopping wet. Add a 3-inch layer of pine needles, repeat the watering, and then add
a 1-inch layer of horse, cow, or chicken manure. Water again. This layering of grass, pine needles and manure is repeated until the bin is full. The bin should be watered to keep it moist and the compost mixed to aerate it once every two weeks. The compost
should be ready for use in about two to four months.
Hot composting using a Hotbin composter provides a quick and effective means of composting shredded Leylandii and pine needles producing compost in about 3 months if the temperature
is maintained. One of the advantages of leaves is that they can be stored and Hotbin suggests that they can be added to the bin with grass cuttings in a in a 50/50 mix. The high temperature of the decomposing nitrogen rich grass will speed the decomposition
of the leaves.
All leaves are not the same and the type of leaf available may influence the choice of whether they are used to make leafmould or compost.
Ash, cherry, linden, maple, popular and willow are categorised
as “good leaves” by Ken Thompson in "Compost" composting down in about a year being relatively low in lignin and relatively high in nitrogen and calcium. He classifies beech, birch, oak, and sweet chestnut
as bad leaves being higher in lignin and lower in nitrogen and calcium and taking at least two years to compost.
When large amounts of Cherry laurel are shredded a smell of smell of almonds or marzipan, can sometimes be detected and concern has
been expressed about the risk of cyanide poisoning. The safety precautions are not complicated i.e., chipping, or shredding it in a well-ventilated area and not standing downwind while working.
alternative to adding the leaves to a compost bin is to make a leaf/grass sandwich using alternative layers of grass and leaves as if you were Grass Boarding substituting the leaves for the cardboard that would be used in a grass board heap. A variation on
this technique is to use a mower to shred the leaves on the lawn when the grass need cutting so that there are about equal quantities of grass and shredded leaves.
Compost made using Pine needles is acidic and as consequence their compost is recommended
for acid-loving plants such as strawberries, raspberries, and rhododendrons. However, the leaves take longer to decompose than most other types so should be composted separately. I would always recommend shredding them first.
If you only have
space for one compost bin pine needles can mixed with the normal compostable waste but I would recommend that they do not exceed 10 percent of the content. However, the composting leaves in a conventional heap or bin can be a slow process.