Canberra leaf composting, gardening & disposal FAQs

Some of us love to garden, and others are scared they might kill their plants if they take up the challenge that is gardening. Yet others have just bought a house inheriting someone else’s garden design. No matter where you are, we can help!

We know that sometimes you don’t want to talk to people and ask “silly” questions. We’re really happy to help. We’ve taken all of the leaf and composting questions you’ve been asking us, and we get straight to the point, giving you the answers you need.

Let’s jump into it.
Here are the answers to your FAQs:

Is leaf compost good for vegetable gardens?

Is leaf compost good for vegetable gardens?

Leaves are an ideal source of the nutrients your veggies need to grow.

Just like any plant, vegetables need organic matter to grow. The more organic matter in the ground, the better your soil can support plant growth. If you want to learn how to check if your soil is healthy, click here.

Leaves are the best source of carbon that you can apply to improve soil health. Tim Edmonson from Get Growing shared his hacks with us, showing us how he gets leaves to break down fast. Learn more about the science of how leaves break down here 

Organic matter helps soil hold water and delivers the nutrients that plants need to grow.  If you’ve been putting your veggie and fruit scraps, lawn clippings and leaves into waste bins, now might be the time to try composting. To learn more about composting, you can start from composting gurus here or here.

Can you put leaves into the compost?

Can you put leaves into the compost?

Any compost pile should be 50% leaves or other brown matter.

Leaves are an important source of brown matter needed to make compost. Other brown materials you may use in composting are paper, cardboard, straw and hay. Leaves deliver precious nutrients that plants need to grow. Mother nature built a clever system that didn’t require chemical fertilisers. Leaves were all a part of the plan. They were built to store nutrients that get released at just the right time. Learn more about the brown and green sources you can put in your compost here 

Many Canberra gardeners know they can realise the value of leaves and other materials by composting. Canberra gardeners have shared their composting tips with us. Through trial and error, they have learned that 50% brown and 50% green ensures you don’t end up with any unpleasant smells in your compost pile.  

The time it takes for your compost to break down can be sped up in a few different ways. First, you can water your compost regularly if you want to speed up the breakdown of your material. Second, you can shred your leaves before adding them to your pile. Third, you can turn over your compost frequently, e.g. daily, twice weekly, weekly and so on. Finally, you can cover your compost pile to raise the heat level. Just make sure it doesn’t get too hot because you don’t want to cook your worms and other creatures who come in to do the hard work for you. Want to make a start on composting? You can get a 10% discount from Composting 101 by clicking here

Can you put leaves into the green waste bin in Canberra?

Can you put leaves into the green waste bin in Canberra?

Yes, you can put leaves into your green bin. But, just because it’s called a green bin doesn’t mean you can’t put your brown leaves in there!

Landfills around Australia are filling up, and waste management is changing fast. Nearly 1/3 of waste in household bins is green waste, which is a valuable resource. Following the success of household recycling schemes, many local governments across Australia are encouraging people to take up green bins. People in the ACT can purchase a 240 litre green bin by clicking here. People with a green bin place their green waste into their green bin.   

Green waste refers to organic garden materials such as weeds, grass clippings, prunings, flowers, leaves, twigs and small branches. You can place any type of leaves into your green bin, knowing they will be directed to a waste processing facility that turns your green waste into usable products such as soil conditioners and mulch.  

You can learn more about what can and can’t go into green bins here. We hope that very soon, everyone living in Canberra will be able to place their food scraps in green bins that are picked up weekly. The ACT Government are currently piloting a Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) collection service in selected Belconnen suburbs. FOGO trials are testing whether the amount of waste going to landfills is being reduced through more frequent green bin pick up services. Belconnen, Bruce, Cook and Macquarie were selected as the pilot suburbs because of their mix of single residential dwellings and multi-unit properties. 

Is it okay to use leaves as mulch?

Is it okay to use leaves as mulch?

Leaves are a great source and can be placed straight onto your garden delivering nutrients back from the first moment they get wet. Leaves won’t stop delivering nutrients until they have 100% broken down.

Leaves deliver a whole range of nutrients. Think of a cup of tea, you pour water over tea leaves, and within a few moments, you have a beautiful cup of flavoured tea that smells and tastes delicious.  

Leaves serve the same role for plants. Trees drop leaves when temperatures are low or high. In the case of deciduous trees, leaves fall as winter signals that its time for trees to go dormant. For Eucalypt trees, it is a different story. As summer hits its peak and water sources aren’t high enough, leaves fall. If summers are too long, whole branches are dropped by trees delivering material to the ground.  

Now let’s go back to that cup of tea. If you place leaves in water, they release their nutrients into the water. In fact, leaves release 50% of their nutrients in the first 24 hours they are in the water. By wetting your leaves where they are first placed you get instant and free fertiliser!

Nature is clever. The role of leaves is to store nutrients. In any natural area leaves take the nutrients back to the ground and they deliver the organic matter that soils need to be healthy. Some nutrients remain stored in the leaf until it finally breaks down, and other nutrients are released as soon as leaves get wet for the first time.  

Get Growing’s Horticulturalist Tim Edmonson fertilises his grass with Oak leaves. You can see a demonstration here. First, he waters the leaves, then he mows them, and then he repeats. This process is repeated until the leaves are little cornflake sized particles left on his lawn. You could do this and then place the leaves onto any garden bed delivering a thick layer of mulch that stops weeds from growing and keeps water in your garden bed.

Can you recycle leaves?

Can you recycle leaves?

Yes, you sure can!

By their very nature, leaves were born for recycling. Leaves are the ultimate example of a circular economy. They grow on plants and trees, and over time they return to the earth breaking back down into dirt. As they break down, they deliver their nutrients into the dirt, which is then used by trees and other plants to grow. This circle of life is a beautiful self-sustaining system. If you want to read more about the life of a leaf, click here 

To recycle your leaves, you can start composting, place them into your green bin where you guarantee they end up in a bigger composting system, or you can drop them off at Corkhill Bros.

What can I do with bagged leaves?

What can I do with bagged leaves?

Give your leaves to your local community garden. 

Got too many leaves? There are plenty of places that would love to accept your leaves. Kingston Community Gardens have plenty of green matter that desperately needs more brown materials. Why not drop your bagged leaves to a community garden? By giving your leaves to your local community garden you are not only helping the environment making sure that precious nutrients from your leaves go straight back to feed plant growth you are supporting social causes. Kingston Community Gardens deliver a bag of veggies and a bunch of flowers to refugee families every week. How great is that!?

Where can I find leaf disposal services in Canberra?

Where can I find leaf disposal services in Canberra?

Find drop off points on the Leaf Collective map.

There are many options available in Canberra to drop off your leaves. Corkhill Bros offer free drop off services, and you can drop your leaves off for a small fee at Canberra Sands and Gravel. If you want to learn about other cheap and easy ways to dispose of leaves, click here.

Where can I dispose of leaves for free in Canberra?

Where can I dispose of leaves for free in Canberra?

You can drop your leaves off for free at Corkhill Bros.

There are many options available in Canberra to dispose of leaves. Free drop off services are available at Corkhill Bros. They do have some restrictions. The sticks and branches that you drop off can’t be more than 20cm in diameter, and/or your tree branches can’t be any longer than 2 metres in length. If you are a bit worried about whether your dropped Eucalyptus branch can be dropped off for free, just grab a tape measure and check. Corkhill Bros accepts leaves, and any materials taken to them are processed into compost. It is definitely worth your time! If you want to learn about other cheap and easy ways to dispose of leaves, click here.

Why do Canberra’s lakes smell and get closed?

Why do Canberra’s lakes smell and get closed?

Too much phosphorus is coming into Canberra’s lakes from leaves that are left on paths and roads. Phosphorus feeds algal blooms leading to Lake closures.  

This one is a bit of a long-winded and technical answer. Canberra’s lakes have concentrations of phosphorus in the lake that are regularly three times the concentrations needed for an algal bloom to take. And these concentrations have been linked directly to leaves. Around 500 kg of phosphorus is delivered to Lake Tuggeranong per year through the three major urban creeks that feed the lake. Most of the phosphorus enters the lake in high flows during rainfall events. Almost half of the phosphorus delivered to the lake during rainfall events is dissolved. This is like adding liquid fertilizer to the lake. This is why putting barriers in front of drains isn’t enough to prevent algal blooms.

The streets we use every day to drive our cars and the paths we use to walk on are a big part of the problem. Leaves fall onto them and blow toward drains. When leaves get wet, they instantly let nutrients go. These dissolved nutrients enter straight into the stormwater system, delivering the nutrients that blue green algae need to bloom. You can read more on the science here.

Summary

There is a lot to learn about leaves and composting. At the start of this project, our project team didn’t know that leaves left on roads and paths were litter. Like many people living in Canberra, we thought leaves were a natural thing. But we know now that too many nutrients draining into one waterway are a pollutant. The thing is, leaves aren’t litter when they are recycled. Leaves in the right place can be good

The more we start composting and recycling leaves, the more our gardens thrive as we improve soil health. Not only do our gardens and homes look better and become worth even more when we collect, store or dispose of leaves, they bring joy to others and deliver you with a heap of health benefits. Join the Leaf Collective and start realising the actual value of trees and leaves. It’s time to Get Garden Active now.  

What is The Leaf Collective?

In Autumn 2021 Vanessa Salamone, Renata Anibaldi, Melissa Dalley, Jeremy Larsen and Brooklyn Downes piloted social marketing in Canberra, ACT. The project team applied CBE™ working with people in Canberra to understand what they’d like to see. Read more about that work here.

The Leaf Collective was the result. A range of discount offerings, leaf picks up services and adopt a drain initiatives were tested by the project team. In just 6, weeks this pilot program got people living in Canberra involved. The evaluation study identified that the pilot helped reduce the amount of leaves entering ACT waterways. People living in the ACT joined the collective diverting 200,000 litres of leaves out of stormwater drains.

Our work is funded by ACT Government. The Leaf Collective was co-created with ACT residents and experts working on water quality, waste removal, composting and much more.

Our work continues, and this summer, we are running a further pilot based on research completed late in 2021. You can explore program elements realised after co-creation by exploring our project website. You can also follow us on Facebook to watch how our work continues to unfold.

Over the past ten years, Social Marketing @ Griffith has worked on a host of different issues realising many positive changes. Our work has positively impacted ten’s of thousands of lives for the better. Our work has reduced koala fatalities from dog attacks by 40%. In addition to watching the Leaf Collective program unfold in real time, you can look back at how we have used CBE in other projects. We provide a roadmap outlining the activities that occurred in first time program development and implementation across each stage of the three step CBE process in our Social Marketing Quarterly paper.  

Get garden active.

Learn more about composting here, read about the life of the leaf here and learn about algal blooms in Lake Tuggeranong here.