Can Cherry Tree Leaves Be Composted? Your Complete Guide

can cherry tree leaves be composted

Composting yard waste like leaves and grass clippings is an excellent way to reduce landfill waste while creating a free, nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. But can you add cherry tree leaves to your compost pile? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about composting cherry leaves.

Overview: Are Cherry Leaves Suitable for Composting?

Cherry leaves can be composted, but they present some unique challenges you need to manage due to their composition and properties. The main issue is that as the leaves break down, they release compounds that can temporarily lower the pH, tie up nitrogen, and give off hydrogen cyanide gas.

However, by following specific guidelines to prepare and balance the contents of your cherry leaf compost, you can safely transform the leaves into an excellent fertilizing material full of micronutrients that plants thrive on.

Can You Put Cherry Tree Leaves in Compost? What You Need to Know

While most tree leaves make great additions to compost piles, cherry tree leaves have some unique drawbacks and handling requirements compared to other species. Here’s what you need to understand about composting cherry leaves:

They Can Be Composted, with Care

Cherry leaves can be composted, so you don’t need to bag them up and send them to the landfill. However, their high carbon content and compounds mean they break down differently than other leaves.

By properly mixing, maintaining, and curing the compost, the leaves can be broken down successfully.

Provide Key Nutrients, Including Micro Nutrients

Once fully decomposed, the nutrients in cherry leaves are released – including important micro-nutrients not found in other organic materials. This includes:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Potassium

These nutrients enrich soil health and are highly beneficial for gardens and flower beds when applied as compost.

Can Take Upwards of 12 Months to Fully Decompose

Due to the woody, waxy nature of cherry leaves, as well as the compounds they contain, they break down slower in compost compared to materials like grass clippings.

Expect cherry leaf compost piles to take 9-12 months to go through the full cycle from raw materials to usable finished compost. Monitoring moisture and turning the pile regularly can help speed decomposition.

Challenges to Composting Cherry Tree Leaves

Composting cherry leaves presents some unique challenges you need to address to end up with usable compost free of issues. Here’s what you need to know:

Contain Cyanide Compounds That Break Down Slowly

Cherry leaves naturally contain glycosides – organic compounds containing cyanide ions bound with sugars. As the leaves break down, these create hydrogen cyanide gas which is toxic.

Over the entire composting process, the cyanide compounds break down – but this takes significant time for cherry leaves compared to other materials.

Release Hydrogen Cyanide if Pile is Not Actively Managed

As mentioned, one byproduct of the initial decomposition phase is hydrogen cyanide gas. This toxic gas can be released if the compost pile is not actively mixed and aerated during the early stages.

By turning the pile frequently, you’ll prevent cyanide buildup and allow the gas to safely dissipate. Monitor with your nose – if you ever smell almonds, that’s a sign of cyanide presence.

Can Temporarily Lower the pH

Finally, as cherry leaves start decomposing, they release organic acids that lower the pH below neutral into acidic levels. This can temporarily inhibit beneficial microbes and slow the composting process.

pH typically self-corrects during the final curing phase back up to ideal composting levels. But you may need to occasionally monitor and modulate pH if it drops excessively.

Tannins Can Bind Nitrogen

Another issue is that cherry leaves have high tannin levels – the compounds that give wine its dry mouthfeel. During decay, these tannins can tightly bind proteins and nitrogen.

This nitrogen deficit then needs to be corrected by adding high-nitrogen supplements like manure, blood meal, or grass clippings more frequently than you would for other compost piles.

How to Successfully Compost Cherry Tree Leaves

Composting cherry leaves can be done properly and safely by following some specific guidelines in terms of timing, materials used, and pile maintenance:

Chop or Shred Leaves Prior to Composting

One easy trick to speed up decomposition is to chop or shred the cherry leaves using a chipper/shredder or lawn mower prior to adding them to your compost pile. This increases surface area which allows microbes to break the material down faster.

Layer Leaves, Grass Clippings, Manure in Proper Ratios

To balance carbon and nitrogen levels, alternate thin layers of cherry leaves, fresh grass clippings or hay, manure or nitrogen fertilizer, and garden soil if available.

Equal parts leaves and green material by volume is a good rule of thumb, adding a sprinkling of manure or fertilizer each layer to inoculate with microbes.

Turn/Aerate the Pile Weekly

Actively managing the pile by turning over sections with a pitchfork or aerating tubes will solve some major issues that can crop up in cherry leaf compost:

  • Prevents dense packing so airflow can permeate
  • Allows gas byproducts like hydrogen cyanide to escape
  • Distributes moisture and amendments evenly
  • Mixes in oxygen to facilitate aerobic decomposition

Wait 9-12 Months Before Using Finished Compost

Finally, cherry leaf compost requires significantly longer to fully mature and be safe to apply in gardens than most other compost mixes. Expect to wait at least 9 months to a full year before your cherry compost is ready for application.

Indications Your Cherry Leaf Compost is Ready

Here are signs your cherry leaf compost has fully matured and broken all compounds down into usable fertilizing material:

Texture and Appearance

  • Should be dark brown, soft, and crumbly soil-like texture
  • Little to no resemblance of original leaf structures
  • Pleasant damp earth aroma


  • Sweet, earthy smell
  • No strong sour, ammonia or bitter almond/cherry pit smells

Testing Factors

FactorReady Cherry Leaf Compost
Carbon-Nitrogen Ratio< 20:1

Performing actual tests on these factors can confirm if your cherry compost has reached full maturity. Home compost pH and moisture meters are simple, affordable options.

Uses and Benefits of Mature Cherry Leaf Compost in Your Garden

Finished cherry leaf compost offers impressive benefits when worked into garden beds and around plants as it releases nutrients over time. Here is what you can expect:

Enriches Soil Structure and Fertility

The fully broken down leaves contain many essential macro and micronutrients plants thrive on, that are slowly released through the growing season including:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium

This drives vigorous foliage growth and healthy blooms/fruiting.

Excellent Source of Organic Matter

Mature compost also greatly enriches soil organic matter levels. The dark color comes from stable, long-lasting humic substances that offer positive benefits:

  • Improves moisture retention reducing water needs
  • Creates a soil buffer increasing pH stability
  • Provides habitat for beneficial microbes
  • Allows better root penetration and growth

Useful Alternative Mulch Around Plants

In addition to working composted cherry leaves into beds, it can be top-dressed around plants as an organic nutritious mulch containing balanced nutrients. Over time the minerals are carried into the root zones by rain and irrigation.

Cost-Effective Homegrown Alternative

Finally, producing your own rich compost from fallen cherry leaves and other yard trimmings saves money versus needing to purchase commercial composts and fertilizers to augment your garden soil.

And it puts waste materials like leaves to productive use rather than disposing unnecessarily. The sooner you can compost cherry leaves each fall, the faster finished compost will be ready the following years.

Conclusion – Can Cherry Tree Leaves Be Composted?

Composting cherry leaves can create an excellent fertilizer full of nutrients to benefit gardens, if done properly. While cherry leaves present some extra challenges compared to other compost materials, they can be incorporated with careful management of pile conditions.

Monitor the carbon to nitrogen ratio, turn the pile weekly, and allow 9-12 months for full decomposition. Mature cherry leaf compost nourishes soil structure and fertility.

Work the dark, earthy, sweet-smelling compost into beds and as a mulch around plants. They contribute valuable organic matter and micronutrients leading to healthier growth.

Through responsible composting of this often overlooked resource using best practices, beautiful gardens can flourish.

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