Leaf Mulch Info – Learn About Mulching With Leaves

Colorful Leaves Next To Mulch
leaves mulch
(Image credit: James Andrews)

Many gardeners view the piles of dropped autumn leaves as a nuisance. Perhaps this is due to the labor involved in raking them up or it might be simple ennui as the season changes and cold weather makes its approach. Either way, dead leaves should actually be looked upon as a boon. Leaf litter mulch in gardens has numerous attributes and mulching with leaves is an inexpensive and renewable way to achieve garden gold. Read on for some interesting leaf mulch info to get you composting that spent foliage and cleaning up the yard.

What is Leaf Mulch?

Mulch is any material that is placed atop the soil to moderate its environment and enhance the landscape. There are many types of mulch, and leaf mulch is comprised of exactly what it sounds like, leaves. This organic mulch will decompose and needs to be replaced eventually but, in the meantime, it improves the soil’s fertility and its organic content. Mulching with leaves is a win/win in many situations where you want more rapid decomposition and is generally a free commodity to anyone that has deciduous trees. The avid gardener spends quality time amending his or her soil and getting ready for the growing season. Some of us make our own compost, purchase manures or even buy soil additives. The cheaper solution, however, is to use what nature gives you for free. Using leaf litter for mulch enriches the soil and perpetuates the cycle of life by renewing plants. So exactly how is leaf mulch good for plants? The benefits of leaf litter mulch are abundant:

  • Applying leaf mulch buffers soil temperatures to keep soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, thereby protecting plants.
  • It improves soil fertility as it decomposes, which reduces the need for fertilizing.
  • Leaf mulch can aid in retaining soil moisture too, lessening irrigation needs.
  • Leaf mulches also suppress weeds, reducing the amount of weeding for the gardener or the need to use herbicides.
  • They also can help reduce soil erosion in certain instances.

Tips on Mulching with Leaves

The best way to use leaves is to shred them. You can do this in a number of ways but it is best to let them dry first. Once dry, use a lawn mower to chop them into little pieces. Dried leaves as mulch break down more quickly and shred easily. You can also use leaves after the season that have been moist and developed into leaf mold. These are partially decomposed and can be worked into the soil. Using leaf litter for mulch is an easy way to recycle the debris in your yard. To use the dried leaves as mulch, spread them at a rate of 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm.) around trees and shrubs and 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) over perennial beds. You can use them to insulate rose bushes in November; just pull them away before the bushes start spring growth. Work leaf litter into vegetable beds to increase porosity and add valuable nutrients. The smaller the leaves are shredded, the quicker they will break down and the less likely they will mat and mold.

Composting with Leaves

Using leaf litter as mulch has many benefits, but you can also simply compost the dead foliage. You can use the three-bin system, a composter or simply a pile of leaves. Rake the leaves into a pile in an area that will get wet on occasion. Leave the pile alone for about 2 years and it will become rich, crumbly compost ready to amend your flower beds. As in mulching, it's best to cut them up to fine pieces for quicker composting. Keep the leaves moderately moist and turn the pile at least weekly. For a balanced compost, mix in some grass clippings to add nitrogen. The proper ratio of nitrogen to carbon is 25 to 30 carbon (leaves) to 1 part nitrogen (grass). Keeping the pile warm, moist and aerated will guarantee juicy soil in the future and that the fine shreds will break down quickly for fast compost that will benefit the whole garden. I can’t think of anything better than leaf mulch if you have trees on your property. Free exercise and free organic mulch to nourish your garden year round! So don't rake and bag those fall leaves, turn them into leaf mulch instead. Now that you know how to use leaf mulch in gardens, you can take advantage of the fantastic “green” benefits mulching with leaves provides.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.