University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Compost Leaves and Yard Waste This Fall

September 17, 1998

As the growing season starts to wind down, dead plant material will again start to accumulate. With all this material available, early fall is a great time to get a backyard compost pile started. Not only does backyard composting provide a way to dispose of excess plant material, the finished compost is an excellent way to improve soils for future plant growth.

Backyard composting is not difficult. Keep in mind the essential ingredients of mixing the right plant material and maintaining both adequate oxygen and moisture. Follow a few simple rules and the compost project should be a success.

Materials need to be placed in a bin of some type. Bins may be as simple as poultrywire cylinders held up with a few stakes or elaborate constructed wood and wire bin systems. A key consideration is having oxygen available to the compost materials inside the bin. Piles need to be a minimum of about 3 feet cubed to function well.

Mixing green and brown plant materials together is the basic rule to get the compost process going. Green materials, such as grass clippings or fresh green plant parts, supply nitrogen. Fertilizer could also be used if green material is scarce. Brown materials, such as dead leaves, are high in carbon. Mixing the two assures good conditions for the microbes that decompose the plant material. Smaller plant materials will decompose faster, so shredding them before putting in the bin is helpful.

Moisture and air are also required for the composting process, and too much or too little of either one can cause problems. Compost materials should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If kept too wet, compost piles become anaerobic and start to smell. If too dry, the pile "just sits there." Keeping the pile covered is one way to control moisture levels.

Ensure adequate air by designing a sturdy bin and turning the pile frequently. Turning helps mix the materials well and also is a good way to monitor progress of the bins.

Tend to your compost pile often to keep the process moving. The finished compost product is worth the small amount of effort!

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