Shredded woody material with added activators should make decent compost in a year, but on its own may take two years, while unshredded material may take three years. This means you will always have two or three heaps underway at any time, so you'll need room to accommodate these. Fortunately, the gardens that produce large quantities of woody waste are most likely to be those with space to deal with it.
The traditional advice on composting tree leaves is clear and unambiguous: don't bother. Leaves from trees are low in nitrogen and calcium and high in carbon, especially in tough, indigestible stuff like lignin (the main component of wood) and tannins, so they are best kept away from the compost heap.
Yet not all tree leaves are the same, and the usual advice is founded on the assumption that gardeners can't tell them apart. The real story, for gardeners who can tell them apart, is that leaves of some trees are tough and slow to break down. However, other leaves are much richer in nitrogen and calcium and make a useful addition to the compost heap.
Good leaves Ash, cherry, elm, lime (linden or basswood), maple, poplar (cottonwood), willow.
Bad leaves Beech, birch, hornbeam, oak, sweet chestnut.
Was this article helpful?