comost leaves

Benefits of Using Compost (2)

Compost is one of nature's best mulches and soil amendments, and you can use it instead of commercial fertilizers. Best of all, compost is cheap. You can make it without spending a cent. Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil's water-holding capacity. Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms, so few if any soil amendments will need to be added.

Compost is the end product of a complex feeding pattern involving hundreds of different organisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects. What remains after these organisms break down organic materials is the rich, earthy substance your garden will love. Composting replicates nature's natural system of breaking down materials on the forest floor. In every forest, grassland, jungle, and garden, plants die, fall to the ground, and decay. They are slowly dismantled by the small organisms living in the soil. Eventually these plant parts disappear into the brown crumbly forest floor. This humus keeps the soil light and fluffy.

Almost any organic material is suitable for a compost pile. The pile needs a proper ratio of carbon-rich materials, or "browns," and nitrogen-rich materials, or "greens." Among the brown materials are dried leaves, straw, and wood chips. Nitrogen materials are fresh or green, such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps.

What to add to your compost pile:

  • Dry grass clippings free of pesticides or herbicide residue (avoid adding grass in large quantities)
  • Tea bags and coffee granules
  • Fruit and vegetable rinds and peels
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Wood ashes
  • Manure from horses, bats, sheep, ducks, pigs, goats, cows, pigeons and other vegetarian animals
  • Straw and hay
  • Shredded paper (avoid colored or treated paper)
  • Hair and fur
  • Breads and cereals
  • Spent plants and deadheaded flowers
  • Saw dust
  • Peanut shells

Note: All materials in your compost pile will decompose more quickly if chopped up some before being added.

What to avoid adding to your compost pile:

  • A few leaf species such as live oak, southern magnolia, and holly trees are too tough and leathery for easy composting. Avoid all parts of the black walnut tree as they contain a plant poison that survives composting. Eucalyptus leaves can be toxic to other plants. And avoid using poison oak, poison ivy, and sumac.
  • Peanut butter
  • Salad dressings
  • Meat and meat products
  • Dairy products
  • Coal ashes
  • Diapers
  • Weeds with persistent root systems
  • Diseased plants

For more details about materials, making compost to fit your needs and different methods for producing compost passively or quickly, visit

City’s Composting

A majority of the leaves collected are composted for use around the city, but mainly the City donates it for residential use. The compost is free and can be picked up at City Yards between 7:30 am and 3:30 pm, Monday-Friday.  For assistance with loading, please arrive at either 7:30 am or 3:00 pm. Please call ahead to let staff know when you will be arriving.

If you have any further questions, please contact us at (540) 667-1815 ext. 1414.

Reference Sources: back to top

  1. “Compost Guide – A Complete Guide to Composting." (2004) 8 Sept. 2008