Mulching with Leaves

Mulching with Leaves

By Erin Huffstetler | 10/12/2016 | 4 Comments
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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.

Flowtron Leaf Mulcher

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.

Mulching with Leaves

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.

Leaf Mulcher Settings

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).

Feed the Leaves into the Shoot

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).

Mulched Leaves

As you can see, it did a great job of grinding up the leaves.

Flower Bed Mulched with 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.

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Comments

  1. GOOD IDEA..WHY HAVEN’T I THOUGHT OF THIS…WILL SAVE A LOT OF MONEY AND MY BACK. I THOUGHT ABOUT BIG ROCKS BUT TOO EXPENSIVE AND CAN’T HANDLE THEM BY MYSELF. WE MULCH EVERY YEAR AND HAVE PILES OF MULCHED LEAVES…..I’M GLAD I CAME ACROSS THIS SITE….THANKS FROM MY ACHING BACK AND HOW DO I GET RID OF PURPLE MORNING GLORIES? …BESIDES SPRAYING THE GROUND WITH ROUND UP AFTER I PULL THEM OUT.I HAVE A LOT OF TALL WEEDS TO ALSO PULL OUT. WE’VE HAD A LOT OF RAIN AND MY BIG FLOWER BED GOT AWAY FROM ME. I ENJOY THE FLOWERS IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER BUT THESE WEEDS DRIVE ME NUTS….

  2. Wow, Erin! I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a leaf shredder. Most of my leaves go in compost. I usually put a layer over the garden too, but then need to rake it off in the spring since the leaves haven’t had time to break down. I am now in the market for a leaf shredder too! (Though whole leaves saved some of my plants from our first frost last night!!)

  3. Anita, I tried Roundup for bindweed, it won’t work. It will re-grow from a root fragment of 1/4 inch. Deep digging, carefully hand digging to follow the roots, and sifting the soil can eradicate it. If you can take the bed out of production, covering thickly with newspaper and cardboard, and diligently pulling escapees, can do it in about 2 years.
    Never put the roots in your regular compost, and never move soil from a contaminated bed. (A landscaper brought me bindweed and poison hemlock in “screened topsoil”).
    Will Bonsall uses shredded leaves for a huge permaculture organic vegan operation, they contain nutrients from deep in the soil.

  4. I have been using leaves in my vegetable garden for years. I collect the leaves in the fall with a Walker mower which grinds them into pulp. They are stored in a section of cattle panels and chicken wire in the woods behind the garden until needed. I mulch my veggies as soon as possible with a thick layer of leaves. The onions that I plant in the Fall are mulched with a thick layer with a no pressure soaker hose underneath. I add bone meal and side dress with my home made fish emulsion in the spring. I pick seed pods and the occasional weed as needed. The remaining garden gets a thick layer of ground leaves in the spring when its cool. The leaves not only provide nutrients, organic mater, and evaporation prevention, they also keep your feet mud free if you plant on a raised bed. In the fall as sections of my garden are finished for the year I apply Alfalfa Pellets to offset the nitrogen loss because of the leaves. I till this heavily and when the next rain falls, the leaves disappear and turn the soil to a dark color. I also keep a close check on the PH because the application of leaves can, in my area, increase acidity.

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