Yes, you can compost (most) leaves.
Leaves from broadleaf/deciduous trees tend to compost easily, whether they’re fresh from pruning or have fallen of their own accord.
Fresh green leaves and ones that are brown and soggy from rain or the like compost down the fastest but dried/crunchy leaves often need a bit of a helping hand to actually rot rather than just break into small pieces — stir them into a moist heap to get things moving along.
Leaves add useful bulk to a compost heap but if you’ve got a LOT to get rid of in the autumn, consider collecting them in their own bin, cage or sack – they’ll probably take a little longer to break down than a regular mixed compost heap but the resulting leafmould is a good soil improver, lawn conditioner and mulch (which can be used for weed suppression or for hilling up potatoes etc).
A few warnings about composting leaves
- Some deciduous leaves are tougher than others – for example, sycamore usually take longer to break down than oak. Help them on their way by making sure they’re moist. You can also throw them through a shredder/run them over with a lawnmower – the smaller pieces will break down quicker.
- Holly leaves, rhododendrons, conifers and other evergreens will take a sweet age to break down in a regular compost heap because their leaves are tougher and water-resistant. Either dispose of them through your council’s local green waste service or set up a special slow compost bin that you can forget about for a few years.
- Don’t compost diseased leaves or leaves from diseased trees. The composting cycle might not be hot enough to kill the bugs and the resulting compost might help the disease to keep spreading.