How to Mulch Leaves
Energize Your Soil with Leaf Mulch
Does it sometimes seem like your neighbor’s plants, trees, and bushes are healthier and more fruitful than yours? The difference may be leaf mulch or compost.
Leaf mulch refers to ground up leaves that are sprinkled into the soil, especially around plants, to provide a whole host of benefits. Leaf compost is decomposed leaf mulch that is even better for your soil.
Benefits of Leaf Mulch and Compost
- Insulates plants from the cold
- Retains moisture
- Suppresses weeds
- Promotes growth of beneficial fungi
- Provides nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous
- Invites worms and other beneficial insects
Arguably the best thing about leaf mulch is that it’s free! Instead of bagging and throwing out all your fallen leaves, you can turn them into mulch and add it to the soil. You can also store leaves in a bin until they turn into compost for future use.
How to Make Leaf Mulch
Learning how to mulch leaves is very straightforward. Simply collect the fallen leaves, shred them into small pieces, and spread them into your lawn and garden.
Collect your leaves into several small piles spaced out around your lawn. Use a walk behind leaf blower for quicker and easier collection. A walk behind blower with directional controls will allow you to better control where you want the leaves to go. If it's more cost effective, a backpack blower or handheld leaf blower will work too.
Once you have your leaves collected into small piles, you'll be able to divide the piles up for different uses. For example, you might use two piles for your vegetable garden and peach tree and the rest for your overall lawn.
If your main goal is to spread mulched leaves across the entire lawn, using a lawn mower is your best bet. Most new mowers are capable of mulching. Otherwise, you can invest in a mulching kit. Mow over the leaves as often as necessary until they are roughly one-tenth of their original size. Mulching blades such as the Oregon Gator can do a solid job even without a mulching kit, as long as they're compatible with your mower.
When adding mulched leaves to the soil, it’s a good idea to mix in grass clippings or blood meal fertilizer as a source of nitrogen. Otherwise, as the mulched leaves decompose, they’ll use up the nitrogen in the soil which could stunt plant growth.
How to Mulch Leaves Without a Mower?
Instead of a mower, you can use a leaf mulcher that fits onto a yard bag. Simply collect leaves and dump them into the mulcher, which will mince them into tiny pieces.
- Don’t use large leaf chunks in your mulching.
- Don’t apply mulch to tree trunks. Focus in the area above the roots.
- Don’t collect leaves from the roadside as they may contain pollutants from cars.
So far, we’ve only discussed leaf mulching. Mulched leaves primarily provide surface benefits for your lawn, protecting it against weeds, drought, and cold. To go deeper and fully energize your soil with nutrients, you’ll need leaf compost, also known as leaf mold.
What is Leaf Mold?
Leaf mold refers to decomposed leaves and is one of the best things for your lawn and garden. You may have heard of compost bins where folks throw organic matter, wait for it to decompose, and then use it in their soil. This same principle is used in making leaf mold.
All leaf mulch eventually becomes leaf mold as it decays. So, in theory, you don’t have to do anything special to create leaf mold. However, recall that decomposing leaves will sap the nitrogen in the soil, which will harm your lawn and garden.
It’s best to make the leaf mold separately and then apply it to improve water and nutrient absorption. Plus, you can speed up the leaf decomposition process which can normally take up to three years in nature.
How to Make Leaf Mold
Making leaf mold compost is quite simple but takes a bit of patience. Unlike leaf mulch, you can't create leaf compost instantly (or even overnight). However, there are ways to quicken the process so you have nutrient-rich leaf compost within 6-12 months.
- Mulch your leaves as fine as possible, making it quicker and easier for them to decompose.
- Mix the mulched leaves into a bin or garbage bag with a small amount of finely mulched grass clippings for nitrogen.
- Evenly spray the mixture with water - just enough to make it damp. Adding too much water will breed excessive amounts of mold.
- Wait for the leaves to decompose.
Occasionally, turn the mixture with a shovel or pitchfork (although this isn't necessary, it speeds up the process a bit more and helps even out the decomposition), and add more water if it gets too dry. Allowing airflow and rainwater is also recommended.
For drainage, you can use a trash can with holes drilled in the lid and in the bottom of the can. Always drill holes in the bottom to avoid a soupy, wet mess. In a pinch, you can also use a large black garbage bag. Contractor bags work great, as they're large and heavy-duty.
If you've shredded your leaves and grass clippings finely enough, and kept the mixture damp and well-stirred, you may have some quality leaf mold compost to spread over your lawn and into your garden soil come late spring. After spreading it into your soil, water thoroughly and check your soil's pH balance a few weeks later to determine if you need to add lime or elemental sulfur to raise or lower the acidity.
By mulching and/or composting leaves, you are working within the circle of life. Those mulched leaves will help your trees and plants produce new leaves that will one day fall. Tapping into that natural cycle preserves your soil’s nutrients and promotes healthy growth without costing you a dime.
If you have any questions, especially about products that could help with leaf collecting and mulching, please contact our lawn and garden experts who would be happy to assist.
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