Tuesday, August 20, 2019

When Your Leaf Stash Disappears

Often this time of year, us composters run out of the nice, dry brown leaves we had in plenty in the fall. We remember, with longing, those bags of brown leaves set out on the curb that didn’t quite fit into the leaf bins. If only we could go back in time…

If you have run out of leaves, don’t fret. We have other sources of “brown” or “carbon-rich” material that can substitute for leaves in a pinch. I will say that leaves are, hands down, the best carbon source for backyard composting, but below are good alternatives.

Alternative sources of carbon:
  • Dead plants in the yard
  • Shredded paper (shred to avoid matting)
  • Paper plates and napkins 
  • Egg cartons
  • Hay or straw
  • Untreated sawdust (use sparingly, very high in carbon)
  • Untreated wood chips (use sparingly)
  • Dryer lint (link)
  • Cardboard (torn into pieces)
  • Pine needles (brown)
  • Junk mail
  • Prunings from woody shrubbery (cut into small pieces)
  • Tea bags
  • Expired spices
  • Corn cobs (cut up into pieces)
  • Wood ash (use sparingly)

You still need to bury your food scraps even if it is under a bed of shredded pizza boxes. Happy composting, friends, and don’t worry, your yard will be buried in leaves before you know it.


  1. Hi Michelle. Expand on why wood chips should be used sparingly? I have seen rough cut chips rather large in size. I get to avoid those. Our certified Arborist friends drops a load of pulverized tree branches that is of the size of very small pebbles. Does this make a difference? Your note implies I have be doing it wrong for two years now.

    1. Great question, Mike. If the wood chips you have are working for you, keep using it. The main problem with most wood chips is that they decompose very slowly and release their carbon very slowly so they don't make the best material to balance high nitrogen material like food scraps. I have found that "blasted" wood chips are better than the squarish ones since they have lots of crevasses for organisms to start decomposition. The pulverized branches you mention are probably similar.