One of Mother Nature’s very best gifts comes every fall, as leaves drop from trees. For the small price of collecting the leaves and depositing them in your garden beds as mulch, the returns are high.
Raking and blowing leaves is a dreaded task for many of us, but those leaves are the best amendment for gardens and landscape beds — and a fantastic addition to compost piles.
Of the nutrients that trees take out of the soil through their roots, over half is stored in the leaves, which are also high in stored carbon, taken from the air. As the leaves decompose in your garden, the nutrients and organic matter will make soil more fertile and improve the soil structure for optimal drainage and more.
The trick to getting the most benefit from leaves the fastest is to shred whole leaves into smaller pieces.
Some simple tools you may already have can work well for this.
You can mow over whole leaves when dry using a lawnmower with a bagging attachment.
Electric leaf blowers often have a reverse function that comes with the tube and bagging attachment which finely chops the leaves as they’re vacuumed up.
You can also use a standard string trimmer. While it does get the job done, it can be rather cumbersome to manipulate the trimmer head and definitely leads to arm fatigue if shredding more than just a few bags.
One product created specifically for chopping leaves that uses the string trimmer concept is called a leaf shredder. After hearing rave reviews from a close gardening friend, and reading the online reviews, I was curious enough to order one for myself and put it through the paces.
I’m happy to report this was money well spent. For a modest investment of about $150 and a few hundred bags of leaves to test with, this is my new favorite method for shredding them.
The electric shredding unit is mounted above a sturdy stand. The leaves are safely fed from the top into the hopper, and the string trimmer chops them down and blows them into a collection bag. Overall, it’s the fastest, neatest, most consistent, and most enjoyable method I’ve tried.
Shredded leaves are easy to work with when applying mulch to beds. And once shredded, leaves will decompose much faster into rich organic matter known as humus.
All you need is about a 2-inch layer of leaf mulch to suppress weeds, prevent compaction, retain water, and insulate soil from severe temperature changes. Spread by hand, or with a rake or blower.
If you have an abundance of leaves, you can store them whole or shredded in a pile, bin or what I call a leaf corral and wet them. In time, funguses will break the leaves down into what is often referred to as leaf mold, which is simply semi-composted leaves. Leaf mold makes for a very effective organic mulch and highly beneficial soil amendment.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Essential Gardening Fundamentals: The basics on healthy soil, planting, watering techniques, composting, raised bed and other gardening methods, fertilizer, the many benefits of mulch, and more.
*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Park Seed, and Exmark. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.