Having the ability to make nutrient-dense fertilizer for your plants at home is a considerable gardening boon. Especially if you have a lot of leaves or other garden scraps you don’t know what to do with. So today, I want to talk about exactly how you can turn those dry leaves into something useful for your plants.
How to make fertilizer with dry leaves:
- Collect your leaves.
- Give the leaves time to dry.
- Shred the leaves into smaller pieces.
- Add leaves to your compost pile or bin.
- Place other important ingredients in compost.
- Ensure your compost stays damp.
- Rotate the compost regularly during warm months.
- Watch for pile shrinkage to know it’s done.
- Enjoy your new dry leaf fertilizer.
In the rest of this article, I will go over the 9 easy steps for making fertilizer with dry leaves. Honestly, the process is quite simple, and if you want to learn more about turning leaves into fertilizer, be sure to read on.
1. Collect Your Leaves
First, you will need to collect some leaves. If you have trees in your yard, then you are probably set. However, if you don’t have easy access to leaves, you can still acquire some through friends, neighbors, and even by going to parks.
Just be sure to check the kinds of leaves you have acquired, as some leaves are not great for composting and can actually kill plants trying to grow in the resulting fertilizer. You will want to avoid leaves from trees like:
- Black walnut
- Sweet chestnut
These are all leaves that are extremely low in nitrogen and calcium. Some even contain herbicides that will prevent plant growth. So it’s always a good idea to research any leaves you wish to add to your compost.
2. Give the Leaves Time To Dry
Next, you should ensure that all the leaves have had time to dry before placing them into your compost. This is because wet leaves can significantly hinder airflow throughout your compost pile by becoming “matted.”
When leaves mat together, they block out essential airflow and will decompose more slowly. This can slow and even halt the composting process in extreme cases. So if you can help it, it’s always a good idea to allow all leaves to dry before adding them to your compost.
3. Shred the Leaves Into Smaller Pieces
After the leaves have enough time to dry, it’s time to break them into smaller pieces. Again, there are a few different methods for doing this. However, it’s also important to note that this step is not completely necessary.
You can still compost dry leaves without breaking them down. Shredding leaves into smaller pieces simply allows them to break down into fertilizer more quickly. You can shred leaves by:
- Using a lawn mower. Simply place your pile of leaves on the lawn and mow over them a few times until they are shredded to your liking. The leaves don’t have to be finely shredded, just enough so they won’t mat in your compost bin.
- Using a bucket and a weed whacker. A more controlled method is to place your leaves into a bucket and place a weed whacker inside to break up all of the leaves.
- Using your hands. You can loosely break up the leaves with your hands. However, this method will take much longer and will result in less thorough leaf shredding.
So just do your best to shred up your dry leaves if you want your fertilizer to be ready to use much more quickly. However, if this step is too much work, you can always place them in the pile whole. Just be aware that it may take longer for the leaves to break down when they are whole.
4. Add Leaves to Your Compost Pile or Bin
Next, you should add your shredded leaves to your compost bin. When adding things like dead leaves to a compost bin, keeping a green (nitrogen) to brown (carbon) ratio in mind is essential. The best ratio is 4:1, so four parts carbon to one part nitrogen. This ratio will ensure that your compost remains healthy and produces excellent fertilizer for your plants.
5. Place Other Important Ingredients in Compost
Once you have added your dry leaves to your compost, it’s time to add in the other ingredients. So once you have sufficiently added in all the brown or carbon sources needed, it’s time to focus on adding in some greens or nitrogen sources.
Some green composting ingredients to make fertilizer include:
- Grass clippings
- Coffee grounds
- Fruit and vegetables
So as you can see, there are quite a few green items you can add to your compost. The best part is you probably have most of these items in your home already, and you generally throw them out. So once you have acquired some green composting items, simply mix them in with the brown.
6. Ensure Your Compost Stays Damp
Another critical step is making sure your compost remains damp. Without moisture, your compost will have difficulty breaking down and becoming fertilizer for your plants. The pile doesn’t need to be flooded but should always remain moist. So whenever you are out in your garden, it’s a good idea to check the moisture levels and add a little water as needed.
Using a composter with a lid can ensure that necessary moisture isn’t escaping. However, you should also use a composter that will allow the pile to breathe.
If you don’t already own a composter, I recommend FCMP Outdoor’s Dual Chamber Tumbling Composter (available on Amazon.com). This composter is excellent because it has a tumbling feature to help you rotate your compost pile and a sealable door that still allows the pile to get much-needed oxygen.
7. Rotate Your Compost Regularly During Warm Months
Whenever you are making fertilizer, it’s essential that you rotate your compost pile. Rotating your compost allows the nutrients to intermix and ingredients to take turns at the center of the pile, where the most decomposition of organic matter happens.
You want to mainly rotate compost during the warmer months because moving your pile around in the cold can stall the microorganism’s breakdown process due to cold. So it’s best to let the pile sit so that its heat doesn’t escape.
If your compost is located inside a heated greenhouse you can disregard the season and rotate your pile throughout the cold months as well. Just be sure that it’s warm inside of the greenhouse when you do so.
8. Watch for Pile Shrinkage To Know It’s Done
Once your compost pile has become about half its starting size, it’s ready to use. Composting is a process in which microorganisms begin to break down organic matter, essentially turning it back into dirt. This dirt is then used to fertilize gardens and other plant life due to its high levels of nutrients.
So once your pile has adequately broken itself down and has started resembling dirt, it’s ready to be used for your plants. This process can take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year, depending on the ingredients used. So you will need to be patient.
9. Enjoy Your New Dry Leaf Fertilizer
Finally, it’s time to apply and enjoy your homemade dry leaf fertilizer. This type of fertilizer is excellent for many plants, especially for young plants that are being transplanted. You can mix this fertilizer into most of your garden beds and even apply it to trees if you want.
After emptying your old compost and using your new fertilizer, you can start the composting process all over again. However, if the process was too long a wait, you can always purchase some but nothing beats free fertilizer.
Ultimately, making your own fertilizer out of dry leaves is quite a simple process. However, it does take several months before your compost will be usable for your garden. Still, being able to make fertilizer out of ingredients that can be found in your yard is still pretty cool.
Just remember to allow your leaves to dry before trying to compost them. This will prevent matting and help the leaves break down much faster.
If you’d like to learn more on how to compost with and without a bin, you could check this article out: How to Compost With and Without a Bin (Ultimate Guide)