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    Tractor Supply Company

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    How to Use Fallen Leaves as Mulch

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    Mulch can make a big difference for the health of your garden or lawn. It provides nutrients and keeps moisture in the soil, and it can help prevent weeds. Mulch is made from a variety of materials and can be easily purchased from your local plant nursery or Tractor Supply Company store, but did you know there’s an easy way to make your own from just the fall leaves littering your yard?

    All you need is a rotary mower to shred them, and you’ve got free, nutrient-rich mulch.

    Benefits of mulching fallen leaves

    Mulching leaves for your lawn means you’ll be able to skip raking and bagging, it also provides a lot more benefits for your lawn and garden.

    Using mulched leaves in your garden and flower beds will protect plant roots, help the soil retain moisture, provide insulation, and smother weeds. Plus, it provides a home and protection for the critters you do want in your garden—insects and worms that will eventually help turn the leaves into fertilizer.

    Do I have to mulch the leaves

    Fallen leaves can cause a whole host of problems if left whole on your lawn. They cut off oxygen and sunlight from the grass underneath, clog up sewers and cause algae blooms. Leaves left in a pile can also become a home for pests like voles. Mulching fallen leaves weekly prevents these problems and instead helps more nutrients get returned to the soil as shredded leaves decompose.

    Mulching leaves and the environment

    Now, let’s look at the bigger picture: In 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that 7.2 percent of all waste that landfills received was yard trimming material. That’s a lot of leaves and lawn clippings sitting around producing methane instead of decomposing the way they would in a garden.

    Getting rid of leaves by burning them also releases pollutants into the air and wastes the nutrients that could be helping your local ecosystem. While lawn mowers bring their own risks of noise and air pollution—especially if they’re gas powered—mulching leaves is still one of the better options.

    Tips for collecting and stockpiling leaves for mulch

    In general, for mulching and collecting a large quantity of leaves, your most efficient option is a lawn mower with a bag attachment. Set the blade high and get mowing! It will suck up, shred, and store leaves all in one go so that they’re ready to be distributed as mulch in your garden. 

    And if you’re using the leaves right on your lawn, you don’t even have to worry about the bag. Just make sure the leaves are dry before trying to collect and mulch them. Wet leaves are heavy and difficult to work with, and they might clog your mower. The same goes for mulching green leaves, which are full of water inside.

    Got a huge lawn with way more leaves than you need? Put the extras in a leaf mold bin to turn them into a super-effective soil amendment. They’ll take at least six months to fully decompose—perfect for adding in soil during hot, dry summers to increase water retention. 

    Making a leaf mold bin

    Making leaf mold is an easy process. While you can use a wooden or wire bin (aim for three feet by three feet), for those of us who are truly low maintenance, a large garbage bag or just a pile in the corner of the yard will also work.

    Shredding leaves will help them decompose faster, so do this if you’re aiming to use your leaf mold sooner than six months. Thoroughly dampen your pile with water and cover them with a tarp—this will help the moisture stay in and protect the pile from wind. If you’re using a garbage bag, cut slits into it so that oxygen can get in.

    After that, you’ll only have to check your pile every month or so. Add more water if the leaves are looking dry and toss them to introduce new air.


    Steps to make leaf mulch

    1. Wait for the right time, then collect your fallen leaves

    Once a substantial number of leaves start to fall and temperatures start to drop, your gardens and flower beds will be ready for mulch, and you’ll be ready to make it! Wait until a few days after the most recent rain to make sure leaves are dry, then get to work with your lawn mower, leaf vacuum, or rake.

    2. Shred your leaves

    If you’re not using a lawn mower, you’ll have to shred leaves after collecting them. While you can buy or rent a dedicated leaf shredder or even a wood chipper, you can avoid costs if you already own a lawn trimmer. Confine leaves to a small area like a garbage can and use your lawn trimmer to break them down.

    3. Spread the right way

    To effectively mulch around plants, use the rule of three: your mulch layer should be three inches thick and three inches away from the base of plants. The distance helps prevent plant rot and insect infestation and promotes air circulation.

    Greens in leaf mulch

    Be wary of green leaves and grass clippings in your leaf mulch—that’s one of the reasons to make sure your lawn mower blade is set high enough to avoid the grass. Greens are full of nitrogen, which will speed up decomposition. Having these in your leaf mulch will mean it breaks down faster and needs to be replaced more often, but if you plan on making leaf mold and incorporating it into the soil, adding some greens can help the process along. Nitrogen in soil is also beneficial for the plants.

    How to use leaf mulch and soil amendment

    While mulch sits on top of garden soil to improve its water retention and insulation, soil amendments are materials mixed in to improve soil structure and texture and provide nutrients. Leaf mold can be used as both mulch and soil amendment, making it an excellent companion to normal shredded leaf mulch.

    Leaf mulch and mold make excellent options for dealing with tough clay soil. Because leaf mold composts quickly, it makes many more nutrients available to plants and improves the soil texture to prevent compaction. Add leaf mulch on top, and over time it will naturally break down and work itself into the soil as well.

    Sandy soil also benefits from both leaf mulch and leaf soil amendment, which help the soil retain moisture, increase its nutrient content, and improve the soil texture to prevent erosion.

    Soil amendment vs fertilizer

    It’s important to note that soil amendments aren’t the same as fertilizers. While soil amendments do help bring more nutrients to plants, their main purpose is to improve the soil structure and texture for plants to live. Fertilizer’s sole purpose is to deliver more nutrients. Because organic mulch and soil amendments release nutrients as they decompose, they are a better choice for gardens that need fertilizer as well as soil conditioner.

    Ready to get started?

    It’s never too soon to start planning for your garden. Practice permaculture gardening starting with making organic mulch right from your own yard. Our selection of lawn mower attachments make leaf mulching a breeze, so you can spend less time raking and more time enjoying life.

    More about lawn care

    Growing great-looking grass is a year-long job that involves applying the right lawn care at the right time.  In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know and do to have the perfect yard.