Leaf Mulch Creation

Creating leaf mulch (another name for leaf mold) by composting your leaves is one of the best things you can do for your garden and is extremely easy to do.

Our forefathers called this leaf mulch backyard gold because decayed leaves is one of the best soil conditioner you can add to your soil, and it is free for the taking. Contrary to freshly fallen leaves which are quite acidic and use the nitrogen in the soil when decaying, leaf mulch adds humus (decayed vegetable material) to the soil, and amends the soil.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why not just throw them in the compost bin with other composting material?’

Well there’s a reason for creating a separate pile made up of leaves only (My favorite leaf was the maple leaf) and allowing them to slowly decompose and become leaf mulch without adding anything else to the pile.

While compost is excellent for improving soil texture and adding nutrients to the soil, the broken down leaf mulch (often referred to as leaf mold) is the best soil amendment you can use.

Leaf mulch (or leaf mold) helps the soil hold onto its water thus protecting it from erosion and drought; improves the structure of the soil; provides carbon, a much-needed ingredient in all good soil types; and is a fantastic home for earth worms (worm castings add more nutrients to the soil) and other beneficial bacteria.

When fall would roll around, I always made it a point to gather as many leaves as possible even if that meant gathering up the neighbors’ leaves which had been left ready for pickup on the side of the road, and use these as leaf mulch.

At first I would not shred the leaves but would bury the leaves, as is, into my garden and hope I would end up with leaf mulch. However, I found that in the spring when I was ready to start gardening, the leaves had not quite finished decomposing.

Since nitrogen is an important factor when leaves decompose, these half decayed leaves were using the nitrogen meant for my growing veggies which in turn were not growing as well as they should. So finally I decided to begin shredding the leaves to speed up decomposition so that I would have leaf mulch by spring time. The positive vegetable growing results proved I was on the right track.

So to create leaf mulch, here are at least seven methods you can use to further decomposition:

The first three methods require less work, but the decomposition takes longer (six to 12 months). The last few methods will speed up decomposition drastically but does require more work (well worth it, I might add . . . and easy to do)

1. You can make leaf mulch by piling all the leaves in a corner of your yard and letting the worms gradually drag them under.

Better still, if you have a set up like my friend whose garden is bounded on three sides by a fence, you can spread your leaves all over the garden, wet them down and turn them over occasionally by shuffling your feet as you walk through them. Unless you have a super pileup of leaves, most of them should have disappeared by spring.

If you notice, when leaves fall in a wooded area, they end up on the ground where the wind occasionally fluffs them over; other than that, the earthworm and fungi take over. The leaf mulch has turned to a dark brown to black soil which has a beautiful earthy smell and a crumbly texture.

People who understand cold composting and recognize the value of the leaf mulch will go to these wooded areas and gather up this black soil and mix it with their garden soil as soil amendment.

2. A second way to create leaf mulch is to pile your leaves into a bin.

Using either wire or wood, you can build a bin at least three feet square by three feet tall. Then you pile your leaves into it, wet down the leaves with a hose, and when the pile is thoroughly moistened let it sit for the winter.

3. A third method used to create leaf mulch is to store your leaves in large plastic garbage bags

You simply fill each bag with your leaves, and moisten the leaves thoroughly. Since you are using a cold composting method, you may want to prevent anaerobic decomposition (which can be smelly) by cutting or puncturing slits in the bag to allow air to circulate inside the bag. (A garden fork works well).

Then the next step is to pile up your filled bags somewhere where they are out of the way. If you drive four long 2×2 pieces of wood into the ground, two at one end and two at the other end of a small area of land, you can then stock pile your filled bags between these 2×2 pieces of wood.

Note: You can also use these leaves as brown matter to be added at intervals in your compost bin during the winter months to create the perfect match with “greens” (left over scraps from the kitchen). You do need both in the compost bin for the material to heat up. See the post on how to build a compost pile.

4. A fourth method used to create leaf mulch is to use a grass trimmer and a big garbage can to shred your leaves.

leaf mulch creation with the use of a power trimmerAs you gather your leaves, you begin by putting an armful or so in a big garbage can and run your trimmer through that until you’re satisfied the leaves have been broken down enough for you. Then add a second armful of leaves on top of the first lot and use your trimmer again. Every so often you can empty your shredded leaves in a big bag or a bin as mentioned above. (See video on how to use a grass trimmer and a garbage can to shred leaves in the next post)

Keep repeating the procedure until all the leaves have been shredded. See the video which explains the procedure of shredding with a grass trimmer and a large garbage can.

5. A variation of the number 4 method to shred your leaves as a way to speed up decomposition is to use a mulching lawn mower.

If you have a thick blanket of leaves on the ground, you begin by spreading them so your lawn mower does not choke up on you. Then you run over your leaves a few times with your mower in order to shred your leaves. See video on ( how to shred leaves with a lawn mower.)

To finish, you either gather the shredded leaves with a rake and put them into a bin or leave them on the ground to decomposeand slowly turn to leaf mulch. If your lawn mower can be equipped with a bag, then you can collect your shredded leaves more quickly and more easily. The only hard part is to empty the bag every so often.

6. My favourite method when creating leaf mulch was to gather up the fallen leaves with a handheld electric blower/vacuum.

Shredding leaves for leaf mulch with electric vacuum/blowerWhen shredding leaves in order to create leaf mulch, I would set up the blower in such a way that the leaves would be swept up and blown into a bag. As it would go through the system, all the leaves would be shredded many times over. The overall bulk of leaves would be reduced tremendously but the decomposition to ensure having leaf mulch by spring would speed up.

I would then empty the bag of shredded leaves into big garbage bags until I had time to shred them further (No 7). Some of these bags of leaves would be stored near my compost bins so that I could add some brown matter to my compost bin in the winter time while leaves in other bags would end up as winter mulch around my roses.

7. To further break down the leaves into extremely fine pieces, I used a leaf eater through which I would run the already shredded leaves in the bags (No 6).

This seventh method of leaf mulch creation required more work but I loved the resulting mulch. I still remember those cold November days or evenings when I would shut myself away in the garage to further shred the leaves to tiny tiny pieces. I would end up with bushel baskets full of this finer leaf mulch which I would mound around my roses and other plants to protect them against extreme cold in the winter .

In the spring, this mulch had broken down to a brown humus which I would then work into the soil. I never lost a rose to frost or bitter cold.

If you wish further explanation on how to shred your leaves in order  to create leaf mulch, watch the videos at http://supercompostingtips.com/shredding-leaves-videos/ .

Enjoy
Marcie

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26 Responses to “Leaf Mulch Creation

  • 1
    Shredding leaves: Videos | Super Composting Tips
    October 14th, 2010 06:03

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  • 2
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    October 14th, 2010 18:51

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    October 14th, 2010 18:54

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    Thank you rv30. I appreciate you telling others about this site: supercompostingtips. ~Marcie

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  • 10
    Super Pileup
    October 25th, 2010 11:14

    [...] Making Leaf Mulch/Leaf Mold Unless you have a super pileup of leaves, most of them should have disappeared by spring. If you notice, when leaves fall in a wooded area, they end up on the ground where the wind occasionally fluffs them over; other than that, [...]

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    April 1st, 2011 23:25

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  • 21
    tinnitus cure
    April 3rd, 2011 11:26

    Hi just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.
    ____________________________________
    Strangely I don’t have any problem with the pictures.
    Can you explain what is meant by “not loading correctly”
    Are they unclear? Just half of the picture is showing?
    Please explain.
    Thank you
    Marcie

  • 22
    Irene @ SmilingGardener
    November 8th, 2011 10:05

    Thank you for this wonderful article. It is very informative. I learned a lot of important points about mulching that cn surely be beneficial for my garden.

  • 23
    Alan Stauffer
    November 3rd, 2012 14:17

    I have very little time for yard work, just a little on the weekends. I discovered that I could save a lot of money buying mulch, and a lot of time collecting leaves, by simply using my mulching mower with a bag to pick up the leaves and dump them back under my trees (wooded area in back) and on my beds in the front where I have a variety of bushes. Is it enough to just run it through my mower once and dump them, or will this result in hurting my trees and bushes in the spring by stealing nitrigen? My wife thought that there could also be a mold problem if the leaves are close to the bottom of the bushes/trees.
    ________________________________________________________________________________
    Hi Alan

    The whole idea of putting mulch around your trees is to help restore the ingredients in the soil around the tree as quickly as possible. So the more the leaf is broken down, the faster it will become mulch. Any leaves not broken down by spring time can protect the soil from the heat but it can look unsightly.

    Unless you have big piles of leaves left over by spring, nitrogen stealing is not that much of a problem. This could be problematic in a garden where partly broken down leaves are dug into the ground and don’t break down sufficiently by planting time. However, when leaves remain on top of the ground, they will break down without stealing soil nitrogen from the tree.

    However it is very important that the leaves or mulch be kept away from the trunk of bushes/trees… not because this may cause mold since leaves will eventually break down into mulch when not spread too thick but for other reasons.

    If you look at trees planted by your city, you will notice that the mulch is around the tree but away from the trunk. There are a couple of reasons for that:

    1. Certain bugs will think that your tree bark is part of the material that needs to be broken down and will chew at the bark while still remaining snug and warm under the leaves. If your winters are quite cold like ours are, winter time is not the problem. It’s as soon as the weather warms up and bugs and/or rodents wake up and begin looking for food. Even snails or slugs could become a problem.

    One year I delayed removing the overwintering leaf mulch away from the stems of my shrub roses. Too late I discovered that some bug had chewed through half of the stem, and I lost my roses. I realize a tree trunk is bigger than a rose stem, but why attract problems?

    2. Rodents may find these partly broken down piles of leaves set conveniently next to a tree trunk a good place to spend the winter since they can feed on your tree trunks while staying in a relatively warm environment. If you pull back the leaves from the trunk, the area becomes less enticing to rodents.

    So to summarize:
    1. Go over your leaves more than once with the lawn mower or put them through a mulcher so that they have been broken down more and will thus turn to mulch more quickly
    2. When/if you are putting leaf mulch under your trees or shrubs, pull the mulch (broken down leaves) back from around the trunk of the trees.

    Hope this helps.
    Marcie

  • 24
    James Smith
    April 19th, 2013 21:09

    Thanks for sharing this, its awesome.

  • 25
    bobby
    March 16th, 2015 22:51

    HI ALL, REALLY LIKE THIS SITE, GREAT GARDEN TIPS HERE, I KNOW LOTS OF U ON HERE, MAKE A LOT OF WORM POOP, BUT MYSELF I FIND IT MORE EASY,AND JUST AS GOOD, BY HAVING MY SOIL ,SO RICH WITH RABBIT POOP, KITCHEN SCRAPS ,LOTS OF COFFEE GRINDS,THAT I HAVE THOUSANDS OF WORMS WORKING MY RAISED BEDS ALL WINTER HERE IN GA, SO I DONT VERM ,I USE LOTSSSSSS OF GROUND UP LEAVES IN FALL OLSO TRUCK LOADS, LOL LOL THEN I TAKE MY RABBIT POOP,ABOUT 5 LBS PUT IN A ONION SACK ,THEN PUT INTO 5 GAL BUCKET OF RAIN WATER, ADD 4 TBL SPOONS OF UNSULFERD MOLASSES, 4 TBS OF FISH EMUL, 2 TEA SPOONS OF EPSOM SALT , PLUG IN MY AQUARM PUMP FOR 7 DOLLARS PET SMART, LET IT RUN FOR 3 DAYS, WOOOOOOWWWWWWW U TALK ABOUT HUGEEEEEE TOMS OAKRA LOVEEEE IT ALSO, TU A SMILE TODAY IN A GARDEN WILL BRING A LAUGH LATER LOVEEEE GARDENING BOBBY

  • 26
    Jason Von
    December 7th, 2015 03:17

    A great list of ways to make leaf mulch. Very useful. Will try out some of them at home. Thank you.

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