How to Clear and Compost Leaves

Learn how to clear unwanted leaves from your lawn and turn them into a rich compost for use as a soil conditioner or adding to potting soil.

Leaves that fall onto the lawn in the fall must be raked up and removed to prevent the lawn from looking messy, or worse, dying back from lack of light. However, the fallen leaves can easily be converted into rich, nutritious leaf mold.

Materials Needed:

  • spring-tined rake or rake with plastic head
  • garden "hands" or scoops
  • rotary mower (optional)
  • trash bags or sturdy plastic bags
  • watering can or garden hose
  • fork or knife
  • shade-loving groundcover plants or spring-flowering bulbs

1. Remove the leaves.

The most effective method of removing leaves from the lawn is to use a rake to gather them up into small bundles and then add them to the general compost heap or put them aside to be used specifically for leaf mold. The best type of rake for doing this is a spring-tined rake (pictured) or a rake with a plastic head. The act of scraping up the leaves is in itself beneficial to the lawn: it gives it a gentle scarification. There are various tools available to help make collecting up the leaves easier, including large plastic "hands" or scoops with extended handles. The leaves break down more quickly if shredded so run a rotary mower over them first if possible.

Keep Lawn Healthy

Keep Lawn Healthy

2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover, 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2. Make a leaf mold.

Gather up the raked leaves and place them in trashbags or sturdy plastic bags.

3. Pour water over the leaves if they are dry.

The moisture will speed up decomposition. Some leaves take longer to break down than others; leaves high in tannin, such as oak and beech, usually take the longest.

Using Moisture to Speed the Decomposition of Leaves

Using Moisture to Speed the Decomposition of Leaves

2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover, 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

4. Puncture the bags with a fork or knife.

This will allow air to circulate in the bag. The air assists in the breakdown of the leaves. Leave the bags out of sight, giving them an occasional shake and adding more water.

Puncture Leaf Fill Bags

Puncture Leaf Fill Bags

2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover, 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

5. Wait for the leaf mold to compost.

After one or two years it will be ready to use in the garden. It should make an excellent soil conditioner for borders, particularly around shade-loving plants, and is also a useful potting compost ingredient.

6. Prevent leaves from killing grass.

Create a circular bed around any trees, extending it to the edge of the leaf canopy. Fill it with shade-loving groundcover plants or spring-flowering bulbs that are capable of growing in shade and have adapted to growing under layers of leaf mold. If you decide that you want grass growing up to the trunk of the tree, then remove the existing turf, prepare the ground well, removing any pernicious weeds, and resow the area with a shade-tolerant seed mix. Protect the grass seed with netting while it is germinating.

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