1. The leaching rates of filterable reactive phosphorus (FRP) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from five leaf litter types commonly occurring in urban environments in Mediterranean regions of Southern Australia were compared. The relative composition, bioavailability and oxygen demand of this DOC were also assessed. Four tree species were assessed, including the native river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and three introduced deciduous species, the English elm (Ulmus procera), London plane (Platanus acerifolia) and white poplar (Populus alba). Grass cuttings (mixed species) were selected as a common garden waste. 2. Except for English elm, the majority of FRP and DOC was released within the first 48 h. Grass cuttings released the highest amount of FRP with white poplar releasing the most DOC. Species that released relatively high amounts of DOC (white poplar, English elm, river red gum) released relatively low amounts of FRP. Conversely, species that released relatively low amounts of DOC (grass cuttings and London plane) tended to release relatively high amounts of FRP. 3. Analysis of DOC composition, combined with the differing oxygen demand and DOC depletion curves, demonstrated that there were substantial differences in the DOC leached from the leaf litter of the different species. Biochemical oxygen demand and the biodegradability of the DOC was positively correlated with the proportion of hydrophilic and hydrophobic acids present in the leachate. 4. These results demonstrate that simple measurements of nutrient release per gram of leaf litter would be insufficient to predict the ecological impact on receiving waters resulting from changes in dominant vegetation. Furthermore, the use of traps to prevent particulate leaf material from entering streams may have limited potential for reducing the load of dissolved nutrients. We conclude that any changes to vegetation type which substantially alter the timing of leaf fall or the composition of leaf leachates should be avoided.