How To Make Leaf Mulch: Turn Leaf Litter into Organic Mulch

Using fallen leaves as mulch in your garden is one of the best ways to improve your soil. But how do you make leaf mulch? And is leaf mulch the same thing as leaf litter or leaf mold? Let’s find out.

What’s the Difference Between Leaf Mold, Litter, and Leaf Mulch?

Leaf litter, leaf mold, and leaf mulch all sound like the same thing, but each is different.

Leaf Litter

Leaf litter is the fallen leaves in their natural state on the ground. It may also contain bark or small twigs from the trees in our landscape. It is considered litter before fungi and bacteria have broken them down.

Leaf Mulch

Leaf mulch is a layer of leaf litter that is spread on the soil around plants. 

Leaf mulch offers many of the same benefits that other types of mulch offer:

  • It helps the soil retain moisture, so you don’t have to water as often.
  • It adds nutrients to the soil, so you don’t have to fertilize as often.
  • It keeps the soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer to protect plants.
  • It suppresses weeds, making your life as a gardener much easier.

In addition to these benefits however, it is also 100% organic.

While you can mulch with whole leaves, shredding the leaves first is generally recommended. Shredded leaves break down faster and allow water and air to reach the soil easier. 

Whole leaves are fine to leave around your plants in small amounts. Just make sure the leaves don’t form a thick mat that prevents water from reaching your perennials. 

Leaf Mold

Many people confuse leaf mulch and leaf mold, but these are two different things.

Leaf mold is a fine, dark-colored material that forms when organic matter, such as leaves, is broken down by fungi and bacteria. Leaf mold is composed of partially decomposed leaves, and it is an important part of the ecosystem.

When you allow your leaf mulch to break down, it turns into leaf mold. 

How Do You Turn Leaves into Mulch?

Turning leaves into mulch is easier than you think. Unlike with composting, you don’t have to wait months for things to break down. In fact, you can start using your leaf mulch as soon as you create it.

Leaf mulch is a great alternative to using traditional bagged mulch, which is typically made of pine needles or wood chips from trees. Making leaf mulch is a great way to reuse your leaves. 

All you need is the tools you probably already have in your garden shed, like a leaf blower or mulcher. And a place to store your leaves and a few bags, and you’re ready to make leaf mulch.

Here’s how to make leaf mulch:

Step 1: Rake Your Leaves Into Rows or Low Piles

pile of leaves on green grass

The first step in making leaf mulch is to collect your leaves into a single location. You can use a leaf blower or rake for this part of the project. 

Dry leaves are easier to work with, so wait for a sunny day or after the rain or morning dew has dried. 

Step 2: Shred Your Leaves

Once you have collected all of your leaves, you’ll need to shred them. There are many ways to do this, and you can usually make quick work of this process using tools you already have in the garden shed.

Here are three different ways you can shred your leaves.

Option 1: Use a Leaf Mulcher/Shredder

The simplest way to shred your leaves is to use a leaf vacuum that has a mulcher built-in. When the leaves are sucked up, they’re mulched in the process and moved into a storage bag.

These leaf mulcher shredder machines are one of our favorite time-saving tools. The bag collects all of your shredded leaves, which makes it easier to follow the next steps.

Option 2: Use a Stationary Leaf Shredder

Another option is to use an electric leaf shredder/mulcher. These are standalone machines that will shred your leaves into tiny pieces. 

If you don’t have too many leaves, a standalone shredder may be a great option.

Option 3: Use Your Mower 

Another option for shredding your leaves is to use your mower. 

mowing fallen leaves

Most modern mowers have a mulcher attachment that allows you to mulch leaves as you mow. Simply mow down the leaves and collect the shredded leaf mulch piles.

Add the Leaf Mulch To Your Garden Beds

Leaf mulch is generally applied in the fall months so that it can decompose over the winter. Apply two to three inches over perennial beds. Add an extra inch to mulch around your trees or overwinter your more tender plants. 

If you have extra shredded leaves, you can turn them into leaf mold to apply to your garden beds in the spring. 

Making Leaf Mold 

Leaf mold is the next step in the decomposition process. Where the shredded leaf mulch we made earlier was dry, the leaf mold is a much wetter product since it has already started to decompose. 

Leaf mold has many of the same benefits as leaf mulch does in the garden with one big difference – it holds a lot more moisture in the soil. 

Leaf mold can retain 300 to 500 percent of its weight in water. 

Aggie Horticulture @ Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Compare this with just 20-60% water retention for garden or topsoil. 

You can make leaf mold naturally by storing your leaves in large outdoor bins. However, this process can take two to three years. 

We will encourage the leaf to break down quicker by shredding them and storing them in plastic bags. 

bagging leaves into yellow-green lawn bag

1. Fill Plastic Bags With Shredded Leaves

Shred your leaves as mentioned above. Once you have a few good piles, you’re ready to begin bagging your leaves. To make leaf mulch, you need to fill large black trash bags with your leaves. 

The goal is to fill each bag as fully as possible, but it’s important to leave some air space in the bag. You need to leave enough room for oxygen, which will allow the leaves to break down more quickly.

2. Compact The Bags

After you have your bags filled, you need to close them. Then you can begin compacting the bags. To compact your bags, you can use a heavy object like bricks or a large rock. 

Place the heavy object on the bag and then roll the bag around the object. This will not only help you compact your bags, but it will also help you crush the leaves even more.

Add a few holes in the bags so air can circulate inside the bags.

3. Store Them Over Winter

Once you’ve filled and compacted your bags, you need to store them. You can store your bags in your yard, but make sure they are protected from the elements.

If you don’t have anywhere outdoors to store your bags, you can keep them in your garage or basement. Just make sure they are out of the way and protected from moisture.

4. Apply Leaf Mold to Your Garden

The leaf mold can be applied to your garden in much the same way as the dry leaf mulch. You can also mix it right into your soil during the planting season. The leaves will help keep the soil fluffier and prevent it from compacting around young seedlings.

3 Tips for Using Leaves As Mulch

Mulching leaves is an easy way to clean up your yard and add nutrients to your soil. But there are a few things to watch out for.

Keep Evergreen Leaves Out

If you have evergreen leaves, such as holly, or conifer needles, leave these out of your leaf pile. Save them for your leaf mold or compost piles. They can take years to break down.

Avoid Using Leaves with Natural Herbicides

While most leaves are suitable for mulching, some aren’t. Some types of leaves contain natural herbicides, such as:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Camphor
  • Walnut

Even though they’re natural, these herbicides can hinder plant growth and shouldn’t be used in your leaf mulch or compost.

Replace Your Leaf Mulch Every Year

Leaf mulch lasts about a year. You’ll know when it’s time to be replaced when the pile gets low. Your initial 3 inches of mulch will be down to less than one inch.

At this point, turn the last little bit of mulch into the topsoil and then add a new 3″-4″ layer to start the process all over again.

Let’s Make Mulch

If you are looking for an environmentally friendly way to clean up your yard and recycle your leaves, look no further than leaf mulch. 

Leaf mulch is a great way to recycle all of your leaves. It adds nutrients back to the soil, and it keeps your yard looking tidy. It’s free to make your own mulch, and the process is so easy. Why wouldn’t you do it?