Use Fallen Leaves as Mulch

My Garden Life
September 20, 2016
Table of Contents

Once the trees start to lose their leaves in fall, it’s the perfect opportunity to put them to good use. Rather than bagging up leaves to dispose, a better use is to collect, shred, and layer leaf mulch on garden beds and container plants.

Benefits to Applying Leaf Mulch

  • Leaf mulch reduces weeds and the weeds that do appear are easier to pull.
  • Mulch cuts down on watering the next season (improves soil’s water retention).
  • Mulch provides extra insulation from cold temperatures (protects dormant plants).
  • Leaf mulch breaks down and transfers valuable minerals to other plants. 

Woman raking autumn leaves in the lawn.

How to Mulch Leaves for Your Garden

1. Allow fallen leaves to dry for a few days.

Pro-Tip: Do not use leaves from diseased trees for your leaf mulch. Diseased trees have misshapen, discolored or unnaturally marked leaves. Also, avoid collecting walnut, camphor laurel, eucalyptus or oleander leaves because they can be toxic to other plants and soil life. Some leaves are better for mulching than others so you’ll want to do a little research to determine if the trees in your landscape are good candidates.

2. Mow over the leaves and pick them up in the grass catcher.

Lawnmower being used to bag fall leaves.

3. This step is important. Dump the leaves from the grass catcher in a row on the lawn. Mow over them again to shred them into finer pieces, while collecting them in the grass catcher. Do this at least one more time.

Pro-Tip: Finely shredded leaves break down faster and will not need to be raked away in spring to uncover the garden bed. In addition, shredded leaves stay put better than whole leaves and are less likely to blow away.

Woman holding a handful of mowed leaves that will be used for mulch.

4. Spread a layer of shredded leaf mulch on top of garden beds and under trees or shrubs. The layer should be at least 3 inches thick, but can be up to 6 inches. If the goal is extra insulation from cold temperatures, then a thicker layer provides more protection for tender plants.

Onion and strawberry plants surrounded by leaf mulch.

5. Leave the rest to nature and add more leaves as mulch again next fall.

Learn More about Garden Mulch

Want to learn more about mulch? Take a peek at these articles for more insights into garden mulch:

What’s the best mulch for my landscape?

How much mulch do I need?

Garden border with colorful shrubs.

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