As a rule, leaves being used for composting or making leafmold should be shredded this exposes a greater surface area, reduces the risk of the leaves matting and reduces the bulk of the leaves making composting easier
and reduces the risk matting.
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.
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
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.
Holly In addition to the lignin content
another problem with holly leaves is that the waxy coating on the leaves provides a protective outer layer preventing water loss which makes it important to shred these leaves and to only compost them in small amounts spread across several
bins if possible. However, as it can still take up to two years to compost holly so it is best to use a dedicated bin.
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.
An 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.