Mulching Leaves

November 12, 2013
  • Leaves in Grass

Never Rake, Mulch Leaves Instead

Looking for an easier way to deal with fallen leaves on your lawn than, spending countless back-breaking hours raking, bagging, and sending them to the landfill? Mulch them! Not only is it extremely affordable, but it is also a convenient way to recycle those leaves and help your lawn and garden in the process.

Leaf mulching is the process of shredding leaves to make them easier to biodegrade and return nutrients to your plants. We talked about the many benefits of organic matter here and mulching those fall leaves is a great source of organic matter.

Leaf Nutrients

Leaves are a fabulous source of minerals and on average contain about twice the nutrients of manure once properly broken down. Fifty to 80 percent of the nutrients a tree absorbs go into its leaves, so mulching is a good way to recycle those back into the soil. Mulching leaves reduces the need for fertilizer and can keep your lawn warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. A study by the Crop and Soil Sciences Department of Michigan State University also found a nearly 100% decrease in dandelions and crabgrass after a few years of leaf mulch being applied to a lawn.

A leaf broken up into five or ten pieces is better than a solid leaf not only because it gives more surface area for microbes to break down but also because it makes water and air easier to get in. This prevents your lawn from being smothered over the winter. A pile of leaves that has been shredded and mulched also takes up much less space than that same pile would if you simply raked it up.

Mow Those Leaves

You don’t even need any fancy tools to make leaf mulch. There are specific leaf shredding lawn tools available, but running your lawn mower over the leaf layer a few times works as well. Rotary mowers or a mulch attachment can make this easier, as can having another person around to help push your pile back into place each time you pass over it.

Are All Leaves Safe to Mulch?

Many kinds of leaves are safe to be used as mulch, especially maple, birch, ash, and fruit tree leaves. There is a misconception that oak leaves are not safe for mulch or composting because they are stiffer leaves but they can break down the same as any other type of leaf. Pine needles also are relatively safe and don’t increase the acidity of soil. Walnut, eucalyptus, and camphor laurel leaves, however, are not as safe for your lawn because they can release harmful chemicals.

Spring or Fall?

The best time to mulch leaves is in the fall or winter, rather than in the spring. This gives the worms and microorganisms in the soil all winter to break down the leaves so that they are ready to benefit your lawn and garden in the spring.

One last thing: it might not be a bad idea to add a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer with the leaf mulch. Leaf mulch is wonderfully rich in carbon and is a good balance to nitrogen, but your lawn could be running low on the latter over the colder months.


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