Free leaf mulch and compost
The City is helping get home gardens off to a healthy start with free leaf mulch and compost. As a part of a new 2020 pilot program, leaf mulch and compost produced at the City nursery in Beacon Hill Park has been made available for pick-up in over eight neighbourhoods throughout the City, in partnership with Get Growing, Victoria!, the Free Seedling Distribution Program. In 2020, the Parks department provided over 150 cubic yards of free leaf mulch and compost to residents through neighbourhood distribution days.
How can I access the leaf mulch and compost in my neighourhood?
The 2020 pilot program for this year has ended. Please stay tuned for more information about free compost and leaf mulch distribution coming soon - material is planned for distribution in spring of 2021.
What is in the compost?
The compost is compiled of organic matter including grass clippings, leaves from parks, plant material from hanging baskets, annuals, excavation material from boulevard soil and turf, stump grindings and manure from the Beacon Hill petting zoo. There are no noxious weeds, invasive species or street leaf mulch in the City’s compost.
What is in the leaf mulch?
The leaf mulch is compiled of leaves from the City of Victoria leaf mulch collection program. Please see information further down this page under the ‘About leaf pick-up’ section.
Is this material safe to use in food gardens?
Recent soil tests for heavy metals conclude the compost is safe to use as an agricultural or gardening soil supplement under the allowable limits for BC Waste Management Act Schedule 3.1, the CCME Soil Quality Guidelines and OMRR guidelines. However, the compost should be used as an amendment to your base and not used as a soil replacement.
The carbon to nitrogen ration is an important consideration when growing food crops. Recent soil testing concluded that the compost has a higher carbon to nitrogen ration of C:N of 34:1, whereas optimal C:N ratio is around 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, or 25-30:1. The higher carbon ratio may result in slower plant growth, especially for vegetables, as the carbon will ‘rob’ nitrogen from the soil to further the decomposition process. It is recommended to buy nitrogen rich compost such as Sea Soil for vegetable gardens. This compost will be sufficient through may need amendments, such as a liquid kelp fertilizer. See the Growing Together educational video on natural fertilizers here, or learn about healthy compost and soil from the Compost Education Centre’s video here.
Although the leaf mulch tests concluded it is within the allowable limits of heavy metals, the carbon levels are significantly higher, and therefore, the mulch may best to use in pathways, to top dress ornamental plants, mulching over the winter and sheet mulching. For more information, check out the Compost Education Centre's factsheet on Urban Leaves, factsheet on Mulching and Best Practices for Urban Gardeners.
If interested in learning more about soil health and contaminants, check out the Compost Education Centre's information on soil contaminants basics. In addition, learn about the Healing City Soils program to have free soil testing conducted each year in the spring.
How should I transport the compost and leaf mulch?
When handling any compost or leaf mulch, it is recommended to use gloves and conduct proper hand-washing practices. The compost and leaf mulch is loose and not pre-bagged, so it is required to bring your own container (i.e. bucket, tote, wheelbarrow), a shovel, gloves, and maintain proper physical distancing from others while loading material.
How much will I require to start a garden?
Approximately half a cubic yard, which is approximately six inches of material, is what is required for a 4 x 8-foot garden. Just need a little for some patio or balcony pots? No amount is too small.
Generally, maintaining a neutral soil pH, adding organic matter and compost to your soil, mulching your garden soil and thoroughly washing your garden produce can reduce your exposure to many soil contaminants so you can enjoy the many health benefits of eating fresh garden-grown fruits and vegetables.
The City would like to acknowledge Can You Dig It, administered by the Public Health Association of BC, for supporting the coordination of volunteers and logistics. We would also like to thank the following community organizations and their community garden volunteer coordinators:
- Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group Society
- Vic West Community Association and the Vic West Food Security Collective
- Fairfield Gonzales Community Association via the Fairfield Food Forest
- Burnside Gorge Community Association via the Cecelia Ravine Community Garden
- North Park Neighbourhood Association via the Franklin Green Community Garden
- South Jubilee Neighbourhood Association
- Oaklands Community Association
- Downtown Residents Association via the Yates Street Community Garden
Get tips from our local leaf expert. Does he look familiar?
Mulched leaves are a valuable source of nutrients for potted plants, flowers, shrubs and trees. The City encourages backyard composting wherever possible. By composting your own leaves, you also help reduce emissions caused by leaf blowers, trucks and other equipment used by the leaf pick-up service. For more information, contact the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre at 250.386.9676 or visit compost.bc.ca.
About leaf pick-up
Each fall, the City collects approximately 7,000 tonnes of leaves from over 40,000 trees. Inclement weather and a late leaf drop are defining factors in how quickly staff can collect the leaves. Traffic patterns, school zones, road conditions, noise levels, areas prone to flooding and the types of trees on each street are taken into consideration when designing the leaf pick-up schedule.
First, the City focuses on collecting leaves from parks, sports fields, medians, parking lots, tennis courts and streets. Crews also ensure intersections and sidewalks remain clear for pedestrians.
Residential areas are next. Neighbourhoods with heavier volumes of leaves and early leaf drop, and areas with a higher concentration of large trees have their leaves picked up first. Neighbourhoods that are prone to flooding are given top priority.
The City has pick-up crews and vacuum crews for collecting loose leaf piles. Pick-up crews move the leaves with equipment such as blowers, tractors and rakes to a location that allows for easy access. Vacuum crews use a large unit that sucks up the leaves and blows them into a truck. Loose and bagged leaves are transported to the Beacon Hill Park maintenance yard for composting.
Can I compost my leaves instead?
Absolutely. Mulched leaves are a valuable source of nutrients for potted plants, flowers, shrubs and trees. For more information on backyard composting, contact the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre at 250.386.9676 or visit compost.bc.ca.
City of Victoria leaf mulch
At the City, we process our own leaf mulch. Most of what we process is used within Victoria's 137 parks and open spaces. The City periodically assesses how much mulch is available and how much is needed for parks.
Surplus leaf mulch is available for the public to self-load outside the Parks Yard until the supply runs out. The 10 yard pile of surplus leaf mulch is located outside the Parks Yard at the end of Nursery Rd in Beacon Hill Park. Gardeners wanting to pick up this free leaf mulch can use shovels and pitchforks. Heavy machinery (i.e. bobcat) cannot be used to pick up leaf mulch outside the Parks Yard. You may wish to call 250.361.0600 ahead of time to see if free leaf mulch is available for pick up at this location.
Surplus leaf mulch is also made available to community gardening projects that are developed by non-profit organizations located within the City of Victoria. If you are involved in an existing or a new community gardening project, contact the Parks Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250.361.0600 for more information.
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