I have the enviable problem of having several (6 or 7) cubic yards of both oak leaves and oak sawdust from having logged off and making cabinet lumber from many oak trees that once grew where our house now stands. Many oaks still stand and give their leaves every year and I plane and saw the oak lumber into wood products. Where I dump the leaves and sawdust there does not appear to be active composting and no worms for fishing. Is there an acceptable way to jump start composting in acidic leaves and saw dust from oak? Both red and white strains.

4 Answers 4


Add nitrogen. I doubt acidity is the root problem here, though you could add lime if you wanted to. You have a lot of high carbon ("brown") materials and need high-nitrogen (or green) materials to balance them.

Animal manure (particularly poultry or rabbit) or fresh "green" (not always green colored) materials (lawn clippings, if you or anyone you know uses a bagging mower, though you may wish to be choosy about accepting lawn clippings from overly treated lawns.) Coffee grounds are a fine example of a "green" (nitrogenous) material that is brown in color. Soybean meal is another possible material if you are at (or come to) the point of spending money. Again depending how much effort you want to put into it, you could grow a "green manure" crop such as rye or buckwheat, cut it and mix with the pile.

You may also be able to work out an arrangement where an animal owner would come get your sawdust for animal bedding, and return it later with added animal manure. That's more likely if you keep the leaves separated (and keeping the leaves separately is how you make leaf mould anyway, as described by @Bamboo)


If you want the sawdust to compost down, it needs to be mixed or paired with nitrogen rich, green materials at a ratio of roughly 4 to 1, so 4 parts brown (sawdust) and 1 part green (green foliage, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, that type of thing).

Dead leaves break down differently from other types of compostable materials - if you have the room and the time, just stuff them into bin bags, squashing them down, if they're dry, add water, poke a few holes in the bottom of the bags, tie the tops and stand them somewhere out of sight. Depending on the temperature (faster when its warmer) they'll have composted down to rich black soil within 1-2 years. You can also speed the process up by shredding the leaves before hand, maybe by running a mower over them - smaller pieces degrade quicker.

Otherwise, its the same deal - you need to add nitrogen rich green materials, so a 6 inch layer of dead, shredded leaves must then have a 6 inch layer of green materials, with several layers until you've created a pile that's no less than 3 feet wide, long and deep. Needs turning regularly to make the process quicker and more efficient.

  • 1
    Our local botanical garden shreds the leaves in fall, bags them up as Bamboo describes, and sells them the next spring for $6 a bag as a mulch for gardens. I'm not fond of the smell, but it works amazingly well as a mulch after just one winter.
    – michelle
    May 19, 2015 at 12:47
  • I have the same problem at home- and I do the same add grass clipping and kitchen waste, I put mine in to tonne bags that are one yard square- easy to move and collapse done after use, last for ages, plus I use an activator- urine? just don't let your neighbours know...
    – olantigh
    Apr 30, 2017 at 14:25
  • @olantigh nothing wrong with urine, its a valuable resource - the first pee in the morning is the most nitrogen rich, just in case you didn't know.
    – Bamboo
    Apr 30, 2017 at 14:33

Create a leaf compost bin and keep pilling up high as it sinks down keep pilling more leaves on. As long as you pile them up when they’re wet the bottom half of the pile should’ve begun rotting after six months turn and mix up and if dry moisten up with water. Should be ready within a year without bagging. If you have space to turn every few months can rot it down quicker also saw dust mixed liberally with a good mix of organic matter will rot down well. Found adding horse manure makes it break down really fine within a year. Trick is to keep mounding on top of your pile if there is no room to turn regularly. You’ll always have to turn it once to get good stuff with just oak as very dense and if too compressed doesn’t rot just because a hard dry almost wood like material.


I have never worked with oak. Possibly your climate is much colder than mine, hence composting will be much slower. Anyway, the sawdust can be mixed with greener stuff (higher in nitrogen), such as leaves and some vegetable scraps. You can also let it compost slowly via fungal decay. You may need to aerate by tilling. I do this in my garden with all the dead trimmings and chopped branches. Since most of my garden activity is in spring and summer, the compost pile adds-up till fall. When rains start, the compost heat gets wet and starts decomposing. Most of the activity is in winter (my winter is above freezing anyway). Activity shifts to higher gear in February/March. The fungal decay associated with high carbon (like sawdust) creates high-quality compost which aids in topsoil buildup. I till it in the ground (when it's mature) and add humus on top. The reason I do that is because I use compost as topsoil builder, while humus (which decomposes too quickly for that job) serves as feeder.

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