How to use fallen leaves to improve soil

With the arrival of autumn, and with the onset of stable cold weather, the trees begin to shed their leaves. In the gardens, they begin to collect leaves that have fallen from the trees. This is a common job for those who are engaged in gardening. Leaf fall is part of the natural life cycle of a deciduous tree. These organic substances enrich the soil.

The benefits of humus from fallen leaves

Autumn leaves are one of the best sources of organic matter. They are often used to produce humus from the natural process of leaf decomposition by microorganisms in the soil. Leaf humus has a pleasant earthy aroma, crumbly texture, very similar to compost – from dark brown to black. It contains few nutrients, but the impact of this additive on soil quality is enormous:

  • increases the ability of sandy soils to retain moisture and nutrients;
  • maintains soil moisture during dry periods;
  • in hot weather, it helps to cool the roots and foliage;
  • warms the soil
  • increases soil fertility;
  • prevents erosion and soil crusting during rainy periods.

Soil improvement with foliage helps retain moisture and promotes good soil structure. Makes it more loose, facilitating the passage of air and water.

Loose soil

For sandy soils, water retention improves, retains essential plant nutrients in plant roots, reducing the amount of fertilizer applied.

Clay soils also benefit from leaf rot as it improves soil aeration and drainage and promotes deeper root growth.

How are fallen leaves used?

After about eighteen months, the fallen leaves will turn into humus, ready for use. How to use leaves if you don’t feel like waiting all this time?

Additional Information! Listya is an excellent mulch or top dressing for the garden. They will slowly break down and take root in the soil.

Leaf mulching is suitable for all plants: it reduces the growth of weeds, retains moisture in the summer months, and protects the roots from the winter cold.

When mulching around plants, do not place leaves close to the plants, as they can make the soil too wet and the stems can rot.


You can chop the leaves or leave them whole. Shredded leaves decompose faster and enrich the soil, while whole leaves suppress weeds and retain moisture better.
The leaves can also be used as frost protection for cold sensitive perennials. Do not pack the leaves too tightly, otherwise they may become moldy when wet.
It is not recommended to leave the soil bare during the winter months if it is dug up in October-November, so as not to freeze it too much. You can cover with autumn foliage, and in the spring collect it in a pile, and use it for compost or mulching.
In a compost heap, the leaves decompose quickly (depending on the type of leaf) and do not form an unpleasant odor. After a few months, the humus from fallen leaves can be incorporated into the soil, enriching it with organic matter.

Tips for Rapid Decomposition of Autumn Leaves

Leaves that remain on the ground where they fell will undergo a slow process of decomposition due to the intervention of fungi, bacteria and worms. This natural process will turn them into humus.

Note! Do not leave leaves on the lawn. A dense layer of slowly decaying leaves buries the light and the lawn can die.

The easiest way is to simply rake the leaves into a big pile and leave it there for two or three years.
Leaves are a great source of carbon to add to your compost pile. A healthy compost heap is a combination of brown and green material. Brown matter (leaves, straw) usually contains more carbon than nitrogen, while green matter is high in nitrogen.


You can use a compost bin to speed up the decay of leaves by mixing them with grass clippings. Fresh grass contains a lot of nitrogen, so microorganisms can multiply well there and decompose dry leaves faster. Fall leaves in a collection container can turn into leafy compost in about a year.

The leaf compost will be ready when it is fragrant, fluffy and dark. This can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on rollovers, composition and even the weather. Use it from above or bury it in the soil.

A 1:1 ratio of brown to green matter is ideal. It affects the temperature of the heap and determines how quickly the compost decomposes. If there is not enough carbon, the compost will become too wet and smell like ammonia. If there is not enough nitrogen, the compost will dry out and not heat up enough, resulting in poor decomposition. Freshly fallen leaves contain more nitrogen than old dry ones.

Hot compost is when the pile is turned over at least once a month to allow access to oxygen. Turning every week will speed up decomposition.
Cold compost is made in the same way as hot compost, except that the pile is not turned over. Cold composting is almost effortless, but has several disadvantages:

  • weed seeds are not destroyed;
  • pathogenic microorganisms are not destroyed;
  • many large pieces remain in the finished compost

If diseased plants get into such compost, it is possible that diseases will spread into the garden. Hence the conclusion – do not lay diseased plants in cold compost.

Another composting method is trenching, and leaves work very well for this method too. Composting in trenches means that the compost in the garden slowly rots underground.
They dig a trench, and pour leaves and other organic waste on the bottom in a ratio of brown: green layer, alternating with earth.

Note! When composting in a trench, it is better to add more greens. Shredding the leaves is optional, but it will help speed up the decomposition process.

Once you fill the trench with earth, you don’t have to worry about maintaining moisture levels or turning up the compost like you would with a pile. No bad odors and no extra work. You can make trenches between rows or right in the center of the beds when growing vegetables that need a high nitrogen intake.

Fallen leaves can be made into a large plastic trash bag. This process is faster than creating a heap. It usually takes about 6 months for complete decomposition.

Humus in a bag

Fill a large garbage bag with leaves, moistening them slightly and tying the bag. Make several holes or slots to allow air to circulate. Shake the bag every week. About once a month, you can add a little water to keep the leaves moist. After about 6 months, when the leaves are completely decomposed, they are added to the garden.

The best leaves for soil

Not all leaves are the same, and some are best for your garden. Lignin prevents the leaves from decomposing naturally. Lower content of lignin contains leaves of poplar, maple, ash, leaves of fruit trees, which are destroyed faster.

Oak, birch, holly, beech, and sweet chestnut leaves have more lignin and take longer to break down, but they are a great addition to the garden.

Do not use walnut leaves as they contain a naturally occurring herbicide that inhibits growth in the garden.

Over time, the annual application of leaf compost mulch can significantly improve soil quality. This decomposition process can be slow, as is the case with mulch, or much faster when it is composted.