Making and applying leaf mulch could hardly be easier. Leaf shredders are helpful, but can cost from $99-200. Before incurring the expense, you should attempt leaf mulching with the cheaper alternative equipment: a rake and a composting bin. This project can be attempted by the Beginner DIY-er. Though leaf mulching sounds complicated, it is a relatively simple process that turns an entirely free resource into a beneficial and cost effective mulch that can be used in any bed or garden.
The Benefits Of Leaf Mulching
Because the raw materials are completely free as they fall from the trees year after year, leaf mulch is often considered the best sort of mulch you can get your hands on. It acts as a great compost material infusing the soil with nutrients. Leaf mulch is also considered safer because unlike grass or other mulches, leaves are usually not sprayed with insecticides or similar chemicals.
When properly prepared and spread, leaf mulch can be incredibly effective and attractive for tree and shrub beds, landscaping or even some gardens.
It is also great at preventing weed growth and protecting garden plants from extreme wind, heat, or cold. It also prevents erosion of your soil from these conditions. Leaf mulch is a great moisture preserver. When soil is covered with the leaf mulch, it lowers the soil’s exposure to the hot sun, and slows evaporation. It adds particularly beneficial nutrients to your soil.
Making the Leaf Mulch
There are two ways to go about leaf mulching. Both are easy and simple, so choose depending on what equipment you have readily available. Both processes should be started in mid-fall.
Lawn Mower Mulching
Time Needed: An afternoon
Step 1 - Prepare Your Mower
Make sure that your mower blade is sharp and set it to 6 cm (2.5 Inches) high.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "You may be able to convert your lawn mower to a mulching mower by purchasing a mulching blade retrofit kit ($40) at your local hardware store. This kit is designed to chop up the leaves into very small pieces, which is ideal for leaf mulch. However, this process does work with normal lawn mowers as well."
Step 2 - Mow Your Lawn
Find areas on your lawn already covered with leaves, and simply mow over them. This is a great choice for those with even leaf cover on their lawns and eliminates the need for raking. Push lawn mower slowly and only mow in areas where there is no more than 2.5 cm (1 inch) of leaf litter to ensure even shredding.
TIP: Rachel suggests, "Mow leaves when dry to prevent clumping.
Step 3 - Transport The Mulch
If your lawn mower bags waste, use the bagged mulch where necessary around trees, shrubs, and gardens. If not, the shredded leaves can be raked and transported in a rolling trash can or wheelbarrow to your desired locations, or can be left on the lawn to add beneficial nutrients to the soil.
This process will take only as long as it usually takes you to mow your lawn, with an added hour if you intend to transport and spread your mulch elsewhere.
Compost Leaf Mulching
Time Needed: an afternoon to a weekend, depending on lawn size and desired amount of mulch
Step 1 - Rake Your Leaves
Rake up a pile of about twice as many leaves as you think will be necessary to mulch your desired areas. The composting process will shrink the pile by about half.
Step 2 - Transfer to Compost Bin
Using a pitchfork, rake, or bare hands, scoop the leaves into your compost bin. There are many different types of compost bin and essentially all can be used for leaf mulching. Alternatively, compost bins can be made by hand very cheaply. If you're interested in these methods, you can refer to the University of Missouri’s comprehensive guide on compost bin construction.
Step 3 - Make a Mixture
You can fill your bin with only leaves, or choose to mix your leaves with some preexisting compost or soil if you want a more even texture. If you wish to mix, alternate 15 cm (6 inches) of leaf mulch with a thin layer (2.5 cm or 1 inch) of soil or other material.
Step 4 - Maintain
Mix regularly, and keep moist. Compost can be used after a few days, or years.
Spreading the Leaf Mulch
Leaf mulch is similar to other types of mulch in needing to be spread around evenly; about 2 to 4 inches in depth. Remember also to keep about 3 to 6 inches between the base of the plant or tree and the mulch. Bringing it in closer will invite mold and insects to attack the base of the plants. After this, just sit back, relax and watch the growth proceed.
TIP: Rachel says, "You can also dig the leaf mulch directly into the garden soil to add nutrients and organic matter. If you’re using it to supplement a veggie garden, include crushed eggshells to add needed potassium to the soil, which will produce a healthier and more bountiful crop.