Making Mulch From Leaves

Leaf pilesLeaf mulch also is called leaf mold. While it doesn’t provide as much nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium as manure, leaf mold is rich in calcium and magnesium, which are essential for healthy vegetables.

Every year we all rake and bag our leaves. Then in the spring, we purchase bags of mulch to control our weeds in our garden beds.  A better way is to use our fall leaves for our next year's mulch.

With a little work, it is easy to make leaf mulch that not only is an excellent mulch, but also is easier to apply than bagged mulch while it adds nutrients to the garden soil.

Steps To Make Leaf Mulch

The shredded leaves in the fall

Fresh shredded leaves in the fall

The goal in making mulch for your spring garden is NOT to decompose the leaves into compost. Rather, you want them to break down only slightly over the winter months so they will become an effective mulch for you in the spring.

Shredding Leaves

The problem I had when I first started making leaf mulch was how to shred leaves. I purchased a large plastic shredder that used a weed whacker cord to cutup the leaves, but this only held up for two seasons before it broke. Even though this device says it works with wet leaves, it doesn't.

Another method, and the most expensive, is to use a wood chipper/leaf shredder. I found using one was more trouble than using the lawn mower.

The method I am now using is to use a lawn mower to chop the leaves. I simply spread the leaves out about one foot deep in front of my compost bin, hold the mowever at an angle, and then run over them a few times.

In all cases, keep your leaves dry.

First, pile your leaves and keep them dry if you haven't shredded them (shredding wet leaves is difficult). Leaves need to be chopped or shredded before being turned into mulch. Whole leaves won't break down enough over the winter. Next, shred your leaves. I use a lawn mover and simply run over the leaves in batches. See the side panel.

Adding urea to the shredded leaves

Adding urea to the shredded leaves

Once your leaves are shredded, add them to a compost bin such as the 3' by 3' bin shown below on the right. Add the leaves in 12 - 18 inch layers. On the top of each later, add a handful of urea, ammonium nitrate, bone meal, or a layer of grass clippings (any of these add the necessary nitrogen required to partially break down the leaves over the winter). Then mix the leaves and nitrogen additive with water. You want the leaves wet, but not saturated.

Repeat this layering until your bin is full. The goal is to wet your leaves while adding nitrogen.

Leave mulch after the winter

Leave mulch after the winter

I found that small bags of urea, available from garden centers, make an easy way to add the required amount of nitrogen. Grass clipping also work well, but in November I don't have enough to add.

Cover your mulch bins with a tarp or plastic over the winter.

It is a good practice to mix your leaf bins in March. However, this extra effort isn't imperative.

Finished eaf mold

Finished leaf mold

In the Spring, your mulch will be ready to add to your garden. You might see white areas on the leaves. This is a leaf fungus that adds to the mulch's nutrient value.

Leaf much is very light and easy to apply.

After a year, the mulch will decompose and add its nutrients to your soil.


  • Walnut, eucalyptus and camphor laurel leaves contain substances that inhibit plant growth.

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