Leaf Mulch – How, what, and why

Leaves are plentiful in the autumn as they fall from the trees and collect on the ground in our gardens. Rounding them up and putting them back to work is a great way to ensure that your garden flourishes time and time again, as we explain our guide to leaf mulch.
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What Is Leaf Mulch?

Leaf mulch is a layer of shredded leaves that is applied to the surface of the soil. Truth be told, mulch can be any almost any material. Simply spread around and over plants to insulate and enrich your garden’s soil. They’re another conventional method of maintaining soil moisture, and the coverage they provide can suppress weeds.

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Leaf Mulch Benefits

During the winter, leaf mulch has several benefits for the garden. Not only does it create a great weed barrier preventing weeds and other grasses from growing, but it also acts as insulation for plants, animals and insects. Leaf mulch also helps safeguard earthworms, which are extremely helpful in aerating your soil from being eaten by birds. Like leaf mould, mulch will also help to preserve your garden’s soil from erosion and reduces water lost through evaporation.

Varieties Of Mulch

Leaves are by far the most common material used to create mulch, if you have a tree or two, you have plenty of free organic material ready to use. Almost all leaves are great to use, like those from hornbeam, horse chestnuts and oak trees even have naturally occurring chemicals that help to break themselves down.

Examples of typical mulch materials:

  • Tree Waste – offcuts, branches, twigs, splintered trunks.
  • Tree Bark – shredded hardwood bark.
  • Grass Cuttings – easy to accumulate during garden maintenance.
  • Straw
  • Gravel
  • Pumice Rock
  • Shredded Newspaper
  • Rubber

Note that inorganic mulch like gravel, pumice rock and newspaper are exceptional for blocking out weeds. But their performance varies compared to leaf mulch in different applications.

Gavel will only serve to improve drainage rather than slow it. Newspaper, gravel, rubber and other synthetics will not decompose to give the soil the same nutritional benefit provided by organic material.

Rubber mulch, for example, is typically used in playgrounds to improve the safety of child play areas.

How To Make Leaf Mulch

  1. Making leaf mulch is ridiculously easy, and there are several ways to do so. First, you need to collect any fallen autumn leaves. This can be done by using a garden rake, or by collecting them using a garden vacuum or leaf blower.
  2. If you decide to use a garden rake, it is best to use a rubber rake and gently rake them into a pile in the direction that the wind is blowing. Regularly using a metal-tined rake on your lawn in the autumn will be too harsh on your garden, and you will run the risk of damaging it.
  3. When collecting leaves, you should avoid using any that are diseased, as you will only risk spreading the disease to your other plants if you use them as leaf mulch. You should also avoid using leaves that are mixed with litter, as the litter will struggle to break down and will add contaminants to your soil and leaf mulch.
  4. Once you have collected all the leaves you need, you need to shred them. Most good garden vacuums will shred the leaves as they are collected, making the whole process of making leaf mulch extraordinarily quick. If you have collected your leaves manually, you can use a leaf or garden shredder. An alternative is to place all the leaves in a plastic rubbish bin and using a grass trimmer a bit like a kitchen blender.

How To Use Leaf Mulch

Once all your leaves have been shredded to a suitable size, place the leaves in your flower beds. About 2 to 3 inches thick. Make sure that the leaf mulch does not smother smaller plants and ensure the mulch does not touch the stems of any plants. Try and stay a couple of inches away from the stems. It’s best practice to avoid plants directly touching any decomposing material like leaf mulch.

  • Use around 4 to 5 inches around trees and shrubs to help protect their bases.
  • From late autumn, use mulch to insulate rose bushes. Remember to remove this in spring when the growth cycle begins again.
  • Working mulch back into your garden’s coil will mean your soil will begin to fill with earthworms and other beneficial organisms. Meaning a healthier garden.
  • Make sure to shred leaves as much as you can. Sections of whole leaves can bind together and become matted, meaning water cannot pass through the surface. By reducing their size, you reduce this risk and give microorganisms more surface area to work with.
  • Leaf mulch is carbon-rich (brown-material), use it in your compost pile to balance out nitrogen-rich (green-material) waste such as fresh grass clippings.

Leaf Mulch FAQs

How is leaf mould different?

Leaf mulch and leaf mould are often confused by many, as leaf mulch eventually breaks down into leaf mould. Leaf mould is a thick, black crumbly substance that acts as a soil conditioner which helps the soil structure and helps it retain moisture.

Is leaf mulch acidic?

Most leaves are slightly acidic when they fall, as leaves break down they return to a natural pH. Some leaves aren’t suitable for mulch at all. Some contain natural herbicides that can inhibit plant growth. Camphor, walnut and eucalyptus are notorious for this effect and strongly advised against use for mulch, mould or compost.

What about evergreen leaves?

Evergreen leaves like holly, forsythia and cheery laurel should be added to your leaf mould pile instead as these take longer to break down. Likewise, conifer needles can take years to break down, these should be added to your compost where microbes and decomposers are more plentiful.

How does it compare to bark mulch?

Outside of making your own, leaf mulch can be expensive. Bark mulch is an inexpensive and accessible mulch alternative for many, it’s frequently used in landscaping and is very decorative. It’s a great way to recycle unwanted manufacture waste. It’s excellent for insulating roots and retaining moisture, as they eventually decompose, they return nutrients and a lot of nitrogen to the soil. Be careful not to turn into your soil as it doesn’t mix as efficiently as softer mulches, like those made of leaves. Be wary too, bark can be dyed, and some of that residual dye is inorganic. So, if you’re looking for a wholly organic approach, look out for additives and synthetic dyes.

How long does leaf mulch last for?

A good covering of leaf mulch will last for up to a year, by which time your 3 or so inches you started with will now be less than one inch. Keep an eye on this, and when it’s low, turn that last part of decaying mulch into the topsoil and then replenish with a new layer of mulch 3-4 inches thick.

Flymo Scirocco 3000 Leaf
Scirocco
Air speed 55 m/s
Mulch ratio 10:1
Weight 6 kg
Flymo GardenVac 2700
Garden Vac 2500
Air speed 59 m/s
Mulch ratio 3:1
Weight 5.1 kg
Flymo PowerVac 3000
PowerVac 3000
Air speed 86.11 m/s
Mulch ratio 16:1
Weight 5.2 kg
Flymo Lawn Rake Compact 3400
Lawnrake Compact 3400
Cutting height max 8 mm
Cutting height min -5 mm
Weight 12.3 kg