Could someone please tell me why I spent so many years lugging bark mulch home from the store or having it delivered? Seriously, I’ve wasted a lot of money on mulch over the years. And I’ve wasted a lot of time spreading it, too. There’s absolutely nothing fun about spreading bark mulch. All of that shovel work kills my shoulders.
There have been years that I didn’t mulch because I couldn’t convince myself to fork over the hundreds of dollars that it takes to mulch all of our garden beds, and years when I bit the bullet, and then wanted to wave the flag of surrender as soon as that mountain of mulch was delivered, and I thought about how long it was going to take to spread it all.
But mulching doesn’t have to be that way. I made the switch to mulching with shredded leaves and it’s better in every way.
Why Mulch with Leaves?
Leaves are free, abundant and lightweight. Using them as mulch doesn’t cost anything, and spreading them is a lot easier on your body than spreading bark mulch. You probably already spend time cleaning them up each fall, so why not use them in your garden, instead of raking them to the curb or bagging them?
Your garden will definitely benefit, if you do. Leaves are one of the best mulching materials around. As leaves decompose, they help to lock in soil moisture by absorbing (and holding) the water from rain storms and your waterings, and they create a protective layer over the soil that slows evaporation considerably. This cuts down on your need to water, and helps to keep roots cool on hot days.
Mulching with leaves also improves the quality of your soil, adding nutrients and improving texture and drainage, while attracting worms to your garden. And leaf mulch is excellent insulation for delicate plants, too.
How to Mulch with Leaves
If you pile whole leaves onto your garden beds, they’ll form a thick mat that keeps air and moisture out (instead of drawing those things in). So, it’s important to shred your leaves before you mulch with them. This will also speed up the decomposition of your leaves. As leaves decompose, they turn into leaf mold, and that’s what you’re really trying to add to your garden. Leaf mold is that wonderful, crumbly material found on a forest floor.
So, how do you shred your leaves?
You can run them over with a lawn mower, but an even easier way is to use a leaf mulcher. After wanting one for a couple years (and cheaping out because they cost around $150), I finally came across one at a thrift store. The exact one I wanted: a Flowtron LE-900 Electric Leaf Shredder.
I paid $50 for it. And you know what? Now that I have it, I feel silly for waiting to buy one. I could have eliminated mulch from our budget sooner. Let me show you how it works.
The Flowtron Leaf Eater is designed so that it can sit on top of a trash can, or sit on its own legs, with a trash bag attached to the bottom to collect the shredded leaves.
It’s super light weight, so it’s easy to work with.
And it has different settings to choose from. There are setting for wet leaves and dry leaves, as well as settings for grass and pine needles. You can even choose how finely ground you’d like your leaves to be – fine, medium or coarse (I went with medium).
To mulch your leaves, you just feed them into the top. It basically works like a giant weed eater. I used a piece of scrap lumber to push the leaves down the shoot.
If you’re working with dry leaves, I’d recommend wearing a dust mask (and maybe some safety goggles, too).
As you can see, it did a great job of grinding up the leaves.
I spread the shredded leaves over my garden beds. Then, hosed them down to sort of glue them in place. The leaf mulch already has a nice brown color, and it will only get darker over time. It honestly doesn’t look much different than bark mulch.
I plan to mulch all of my beds this way, and if I have any leaves leftover when I’m done, I’m going to save them in bags for top offs in the spring.