Last updated on October 5th, 2019
Updated October 4, 2019. Thanks to the ancient maples, oaks, and other deciduous trees that live on my property, the lawn is now littered with a gazillion leaves. I don’t bag and discard these castings of vermillion and gold. Instead, I turn them into the best soil amendment on earth: Leaf mold!
Leaf mold (or “mould”) is the result of decomposed leaves. It’s light, fluffy, rich, and crumbly. It retains moisture better than peat moss. Added to a garden bed, it transforms even crappy soil into beautiful, fertile loam. And it costs absolutely nothing.
And speaking of crappy soil! When we purchased this property, the ground behind the house was completely paved with asphalt. I removed the asphalt in 2005, and designed a formal rose garden there. The soil was both inert and horribly compacted. But after the annual addition of leaves, that garden today (pictured above, from my attic window) is filled with worms and other soil-making organisms. The plants are happy.
How to Make Leaf Mold
It’s easy to make leaf mold. Just rake your leaves into a pile, and make a hollow in the center to catch rain. Moisture is necessary for decomposition. Two years later you’ll have crumbly, lovely earth.
No room on your property for a big pile of leaves? Then shred the material, just as I do. Shredded leaves can be used immediately. You can till them into the soil, or, if you have a no-till policy (like me), just dump them onto your garden beds as mulch.
How to Use Leaf Mold
If you have raised beds in your kitchen garden, you need only to fill them one time with purchased soil. Thereafter, top off the beds with leaf mold, or with fresh, shredded leaves. I do this annually, and my beds are teeming with worms.
Ah, water-wise. Ever wonder why a forest can survive a drought? It’s because the trees, ferns, and other forest plants are growing in pure leaf mold.
Shredded Leaves Can Be Used Immediately
Now, some of you might be wondering if you can use whole, not-yet-decayed leaves on your garden beds. The answer is no. Whole leaves become matted when wet, and keep moisture from reaching the soil below. But shredded leaves, as I mentioned earlier, can be used immediately.
There are a variety of ways to shred leaves. Several years ago, I purchased a wonderful gadget called The Flowtron Ultimate Leaf Shredder from this online source. It weighs practically nothing. Just plug it in, pour whole leaves into the funnel-shaped top, and out will come a finely-shredded, instantly-usable product. Or, put the leaves into a big bin (such as a garbage can) and attack them with a weed-whacker.
If you have a lawn mower equipped with a bag, you can simply mow over the leaves to shred them. As you work, dump the contents of the bag into a pile, or just empty them directly onto a garden bed. Easy, easy.
Note: If you use the mowing-method, you’ll naturally end up with both grass clippings and leaves. This is not a problem, unless you use chemicals on your lawn.
Hint: Don’t use chemicals on your lawn.
Whether you pile your leaves whole or shred them first, I hope you’ll take advantage of “nature’s mulch.” Leaf mold feeds worms and other soil-builders. It breaks up clay. It holds moisture like nobody’s business. And it’s free!
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Louise Brouillette says
Kevin, a few years ago I read this invaluable tip here on your blog. Since then, every year when I put my garden to bed, I top off my raised beds with leaves. I’ve never shredded them (I live in the city and get bags of leaves from my tree-ful friends). Do you think I should shred them? Would it make a big difference?
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Louise – It’s better to use shredded leaves when topping off raised beds. Whole leaves can mat, and keep water from reaching the soil below. If the leaves in your gift bags are dry, just break them up by stomping with your feet!
Scott Trudell says
I agree. I have used shredded leaves on my beds for years, and the difference they make in the soil is unbelievable. When I first moved to my current home, the soil was hard, compacted clay. After 12 years of shredded leaves I now have rich, crumbly soil! I work at a greenhouse and always tell people to use this trick to help improve soil. Some people react with a….”wow, I never thought of that”… Other people look at me skeptically, as if I were telling them aliens have landed!! Oh well, their loss. Let them drag home bales of peat moss and empty their bank accounts doing so. I recall a comment Barbara Damrosch once made… That she was “an old fashioned dirt gardener”. I guess that’s me. I’d rather garden naturally, using nature as a guide… And do things by hand rather than machine.
Louise Brouillette says
Stomping on them! Kevin, you are a font of knowledge!!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Scott – Nice to hear from you!
So Kevin – would just mowing over the leaves, without a bag, help my sad lawn that has not been treated with anything for at least 10 years?
Lucky me! I throw mine right behind the barn door where the horses walk over them and anoint them generously all winter. By spring they are rich, crumbly, nutrient packed gold. A lovely side park of keeping them. I’m off to ride thru woods ablaze with color on this wonderful sunny day. Perhaps I’ll have butternut soup when I return. Life is good.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Roberta – Yes! As they decompose, shredded (mowed) leaves will add fertility to your lawn.
Your yard is so beautiful! Very different from my Pacific Northwest Coastal. The only “leaf” I get for compost is what I grow in my garden.
Steve Wanasek says
Thanks so much for taking the time to produce this wonderful site.
Do you fertilize along with using leaves for mulch? If so, what type do you use?
Thanks again for all the information and enjoyment.
Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says
When the county leaf truck comes to my street to suck up piles of leaves at the curb, it does not get even one leaf from me. I have Maple, Dogwood, Pagoda, Snowbell, Crabapple and Redbud leaves carpeting my 1/3 acre property. I use them all every year, either in compost bins, or as winter blankets on beds, or as stuffing in the wire surround protecting my fig tree or just chipped up and stashed in a dry place for future use. Leaves are the currency of organic gardening and compost-making. Their value cannot be overestimated.
And when leaves blow under the hedge and get stuck, that’s supposed to happen! If they stay there and decompose, they improve the health of the hedge.
For whole leaves placed on raised beds that are blowing off…. soil can be raked over to one side of the bed, leaves inserted in the depression, then soil raked back across them. Then pull up soil to make a depression on the opposite side and place more leaves there, with soil raked across their tops again. I use this method a lot to keep soil levels high in my raised beds. Exposed soil on top usually also gets a blanket of chipped leaves before winter.
Shredding is especially important if leaves have a waxy coating on them like some Maples, tending to make them impenetrable when thickly layered. Shredding reduces this effect and allows air and moisture to be exchanged more readily.
I am so glad to see Barbara Damrosch’s name mentioned in comment #3 by Scott. She’s my heroine!!! I still have homemade VHS tapes of all her and husband Eliot Coleman’s TLC gardening shows. Timeless advice for organic gardeners.
One reminder for your trash can method of chipping with the weed whacker…. WEAR…EYE…PROTECTION. Raking always brings up small stones out of the lawn.
This is a great article, Kevin!
linda faatz says
I do exactly want you do with leaves. While my friends are frustrated with so many leaves I welcome every leaf that drops. Arn’t we lucky to have so many!! I love your blog. You are so practical and informative and reassuring.
Keep all the hints and Ways in the Garden coming.
Karen Hermansen says
I save all my leaves and those of my neighbors. I shred the leaves that go I to the compost. And the rest get used as mulch between my raised beds and other places. I am fortunate to have a great loamy clay-y soil.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Steve – I only feed my food crops on rare occasions, if at all. And then I use Espoma’s organic “Plant Tone.” My roses, on the other hand, enjoy a regular feast of “Rose Tone” (another organic Espoma product) during the growing season.
Hi Beverly – Great tips. Thank you!
Marjie T. says
We have the nearest village bring collected leaves to our place and dump them in a huge pile. The leaves make great mulch, which turns to compost, right in the gardens. We never get to the bottom of the pile so we plant our buttercup squash in it in spring and it thrives (in the parts that have become composted) and use the pile as a place to winter-over potted things that need protection. When the new leaves are delivered, it serves as a great playground for the kids.
Marjie T. says
and if you can’t get the leaves shredded (we don’t bother), they decompose just fine – it just takes a little longer.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Linda & Karen – Nice to “meet” you!
I really wish it was so simple. Unfortunately, I have 200′ tall Sycamore trees with giant laves. By Thanksgiving, we are knee-high. I am disabled with severe rheumatoid arthritis and can’t tend it myself. Any suggestions for my spring garden–I do have a gardener who grows veggies and tomatoes for me in the summer.
I agree with Kevin 200%. I have a 100×150 lot with over 30 50-65 foot tall cherry/oak, tulip,sassafras and maple trees. I have huge mounds of them. I wait til they are about knee deep, then take my trusty 22inch mower with bagger. I blow them into rows and then mow them up. I can make about 1-2 passes before the bag is full, dump that into my wheeled trash can nearby and take the can around to evenly dump on vegie/flower beds. Anything extra gets taken to my back lot where I have cinnamon ferns growning and it all gets dumped there.I usually have about 3 drops in the fall and one smaller one in the spring. I never fertilize or put any chemicals on my lawn. I have all manner of bees, birds and butterflies.
Kevin, as always you are right on. This is what we used in Michigan for our gardens. They were lovely. An added bonus is we noticed the small creatures (shrews and field mice) lived deep beneath the composting pile. Kept them warm in winter. and no shortage of earthworms ever. They are the anchor to any healthy garden. A Michigander who was my gardening guru was Jerry Baker. His aunt taught him so much which he shared with all. No store bought chemicals were ever necessary on our rich green lawn or flower gardens or vegetable gardens.
Thanks for your wonderful website!
Kathleen J Graves says
Kevin, this is such a wonderful good advice post! I have started converting most of my land to native plants and even favorite, so-called weeds. It’s a huge project but the land converted from silly grass is healthier. I love all your posts – thanks so much! Kj
Judy Hines says
Leaves, leaves, great leaves! Out here on the Central Illinois Prairie the leaves are only beginning to drop.
Michele Layne says
Kevin what if the leaves you have had mites and you sprayed with neem oil? Should you still use them?
Denise in Colorado says
Unfortunately I only have pine needles, not leaves dropping! And the scrub oak leaves stay on the trees until new leaves start popping out in the spring. You are lucky to have this natural mulch. Happy Fall! 🙂
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Jody, Janis, and Judy (three Js!) – Thanks for sharing the leaf-love!
Michele Layne – I’d use ’em.
Denise – Well, you are lucky to have pine needles — another terrific mulch!
Linda Hart says
Can you do this with pine needle also? or will it make the soil too acidic? We have a dump truck load of the needles this fall…………seriously, perhaps 2 loads……….
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Linda Hart – The idea that pine needles make the soil acidic is a myth. Dry, brown needles offer almost no acidity at all. So you can accept them by the truckload (or two) with a joyous heart!
Trudi Dido says
25 years ago when we moved to Atlanra I needed to give my future garden a lot of help with the red clay. we are so famous for. I saw a help wanted ad from our local science musem askinfg for volunteers to compost leaves for their garden. It s been a great way to meet some fun folks and learn from each other and we have a gorgeous herb /butterfly garden in what was nasty clay. We do it pretty much like you do but since we still have grass growing now we add the greens Love what compost does for our soil!
This year I gardened in VegTrugs. I will be covering them with a fabric protector. I wonder if I should put shredded leaves on the soil before covering. What do you think?
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Trudi Dido – Thanks for sharing the leaf-love!
Jessica – I had to look up VegTrug. Nifty! If the soil has settled in yours, just top off with shredded leaves, or work them into the soil.
Rhonda Strahler says
Thank you for the hint about shredding leaves in a garbage can using a weed-whacker!! I never would have thought of that! We have lots of pine trees, too – what can I do with the pine needles – they are everywhere!!
Joann DeLeury says
Hi Kevin……I just run over the leaves with the mower, rake them up and put them in the flower beds and my little garden. I haven’t used pine needles because I have heard that they would damage my plants but will use them from now on. Thanks again!!
About 2 or 3 yrs ago I filled two extra large black garbage cans I had with leaves and let them sit in a corner of the back yard on the side of the house. I have a small city lot with a big garden but no real place for a mulch/compost pile so I use rotating compost bins. I thought I would be able to use the leaves as brown matter for my compost mix, and I do but I discovered that in a year or two it has become gorgeous compost and mulch all by itself as well. The leaves have completely decomposed into rich brown crumbly wormy stuff. This is a good method as well – just cover the garbage cans and let the sun “cook” the leaves, and wait.
Julia Hofley says
Always a shock to see the “body bag” count of leaf bags on the curb all over town this time of year.
Many times, on our street, we just ask our neighbors lawn crews to shred and dump the oak leaves in our driveway instead of hauling them away. We gladly add them to our garden beds.
it’s a win-win-win.
Jean B says
I can never have enough leaves, I even ask my neighbor to throw theirs over the fence to me
( same with their grass clippings) I have a somewhat deep garden cart I fill it with leaves on a dry day and hit it with my weed eater, its like using a big emersion blender, wa-la. shredded leaves I turn in into the variety of gardens I have.. happy soil, leaf free yard.
Thank-you Kevin for such an informative, inspiring blog! My husband and I are always at odds about using chemicals vs. natural methods in our garden (I usually win :). I love the methods that you use! I have raised beds in my vegetable garden that have not been producing well for years even with manure and other organic amendments. We chose to use cedar mulch in between our rows and have mature spruce trees surrounding the yard. The garden does maintain full sun (it gets incredibly hot there in the summer). I am wondering if we made a mistake with the cedar mulch, or if the spruce trees are stealing all of the moisture and nutrients from the soil. Do you think leaf mold could be the answer?
What is a no-till policy and why don’t you till?
Lisa in CO says
Are leaves of cottonwood trees and lilac bushes helpful as leaf mulch? Thanks.
Karen Rittenhouse says
The people who mow my lawn have been strictly instructed never to take the leaves away! They are shredded and piled and I use the mulch/mold/soil all year in my gardens. I can’t remember the last time I purchased soil. (we don’t use chemicals…)
Thanks for the great post!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Michelle – Leaf mold will certainly help your garden. I use it instead of wood mulch on my vegetable gardens. (And when I don’t have leaves available, I use special heat-treated straw.)
Chuck – I don’t till my garden, because I don’t have to. The veggies are grown in raised beds. For other plantings, I simply throw mulch upon the soil. The mulch eventually decomposes, and enriches the earth around the plants. Furthermore…I don’t own a roto-tiller!
Lisa in CO – By all means use your cottonwood and lilac leaves.
Hi Karen – thanks for sharing the “leaf love”!
Brandy Hovonick says
I was just thinking I needed to buy some mulch to protect my new hydrangea, and transplanted peonies, foxglove and hollyhock, which would cost a lot. This post came just in time! It will also stop me from complaining about the rudeness of my neighbors blowing their leaves in my yard. Turning the other cheek and being thrifty at the same time.
Toni Kitchen says
When we moved here 10+ years ago, the grounds were horrible..even the grass didn’t do well.
iIn one spot about 8’x8′ we removed the top layer of grass and discarded it, leaving the scraped soil because it was sooo hard we couldn’t get a pick axe into it. We piled all the pots of soil left from dead flowers and such, onto the surface of the soil. Broke it up, leveled it off and left it til spring.
Spring sprung and oh what joy…The worms had come to the surface and worked all that potting soil into the hard ground and it was wonderful to turn over. Ever since then when the pots’ flowers have been spent, we dump all the pot soil onto the soils around our gardens. We now have black loamy soil. It is lovely. Also we have two composters we put leaves and kitchen scraps into, to be used in the spring in the gardens. i just love free fertilizer.oh, and this year I learned that 25% of our compost should contain paper, so newspapers, wadded up, all our important shredded paper and egg cartons go into our compost as well. it all disintegrates into lovely compost.
Thank you Kevin for this wonderful site. It’s allll good. : ) Toni( the tailor) Kitchen
We have been very busy this year and gone most of the time. As a result, I did not get much weeding done. My question: can my plants which are now dried up, be left alone and used as mulch?
Shredded leaves are the best. I just put some in today in a flower bed. Applied them in a trend style and also added alfalfa pellets before covering with soil and a light layer of shredded leaves. It’s so worth the effort now.
Thanks for the GREAT tip. After reading your post I purchased a shredder – the WORX. I bought this one because it is very compact and it is a BEAST!!!. I also purchased the AMAZING RAKE – no more bending over to feed the shredder. If you don’t have one of these get one! We blow the leaves into a pile and use the AMAZING RAKE to load them into the shredder. What a FANTASTIC combo. One other little gizmo I would recommend is the small NUT WIZARD. We have had a ton of acorns drop this year in Michigan and this tool makes quick work of them. My husband and I picked up over 30 gallons of acorns during the last 2 days while also blowing and shredding leaves. We love your site and look forward to reading your newsletter every week to see the latest MOUTH-WATERING recipe!
Tom Cahill says
Great information on the usage of autumn leaves. I have very few deciduous trees on my property presently, but have planted them since moving here from VA 2 yrs. ago. I have notified my neighbors that I’ll take any bagged leaves they have. They are more than willing to donate them to me to the point I had to re-email everyone telling them I am full. I have tossed them into my 2 composting bins in the back yard in order to have them decompose over the winter. Then I read your suggestion of chopping them up. As soon as this Noreaster finally blows through later today, I’ll fire up my lawn mower, toss the leaves back onto the lawn, and chop them into finer pieces, before either putting them back into the bins, or directly onto my 7 raised beds. I use the Square Foot Method, so this technique you advise will work perfectly. Thanks for the help.
paula k says
Just got a Snow Joe leaf shredder partially thanks to all the great comments here, Your followers are the BEST Kevin! Love it. Made enough finely shredded leaves to top all the veg beds….had to hand till them in as we put them on today due to the high winds….was not letting that finely shredded gold get away. The shredder is Loud and a little bit dusty….so had the full outfit, safety glasses, ear muffs, sturdy shoes…but SO worth it, so much better than the reverse leaf blower thing. So happy!! thanks!
janice degraw says
I’m wondering whether to save the chopped up leave, which also would contain the leaves of plants that propogate when the leaves are chopped (ground ivy, I think).
Will they die in a can? I have a lawnmower that also mulches.
I don’t use chemicals.
janice degraw says
would you please answer my question above regarding ground ivy growing in the grass. Will the chopped up ground ivy, along with the chopped up grass and leaves die in a mulching bin? Thank you
Thanks for the leaf tip! I have a question for you. I filled up my five 4 x 8 ft raised beds with shredded leaves. Should I tack down some kind of mesh over the top? Sometimes we get wind and I’m afraid of the leaves blowing away.
Also, is there any kind of leaf that is not good to use? I have 3 huge willow trees and wondered if they are fine.
Thanks again!!! Love your blog!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Heather – In my experience, shredded leaves will not blow away once they have been moistened by the garden hose or rainfall. All leaves are usable, including those from your willow. And thank you for the kind words — I’m so glad you enjoy my website!
Can you help me find an easy way. Each year the Council on Aging rakes my leaves and they put them in big paper bags that I keep. They are not shredded and when I have used them on my garden “raised beds” they clump together, probably because they haven’t been shredded. What is an easy way to shred them once they have been bagged? Any ideas????
Bonus for leaf covered garden – lots of earthworms that till my soil
The method I use for shredding leaves is the leaf blower, which has an attachment and bag to catch the shredded leaves, instead of blowing them around. It’s just a reverse play.
I was wondering if you prefer your leaf shredder set on fine or course for making mulch? Also, I heard added lime to the pile can help break down the leaves and possibly neutralize the tannins from oak leaves? Just wondering your thoughts, thanks 🙂
Kevin, Thank you for telling us about shredding leaves using the Flowtron leaf shredder. I purchased one and that thing kicks _____. I am lucky enough to live in a city on a forested piece of land in Western Washington. Lots of big leaf maples and fir needles every fall. Lots of work but it sure is worth it!
Mark Cotrupe says
I’ve been using leaf mulch for many years. When I first used them I ran into the problem of matting and mold growing underneath. While shredding is probably ideal, I didn’t have one, or the money to purchase one. What I have since figured out is that when you have your leaves on the ground, don’t rake them up until they start drying just a bit. Once the edges start to curl, you can rake them and throw them in a bed. It has just enough loft to keep the mold from forming. They also tend to not blow away once they have that little curl on the edge.
Carol Samsel says
I use my leaves every year and now I have neighbors who drop off bags of leaves from their yards 🙂 We live in a country subdivision with wooded 3 ares lots so there are tons of leaves out there.
All my leaves go into the enclosed chicken run. They scratch them, stomp & shred them! Turning them into “enriched” dirt in a matter of weeks. From there I sift (unnecessary but the result is awesome) and add to all of my gardens, beds, trees etc.! You Kevin so need chickens the eggs are awesome and they are fun to watch. set up properly they require only a little time and attention. I don’t compost at all (accept for the manure and bedding) because the little Pterodactyls eat everything!!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Troy – I would love to have hens here. They contribute so much, and ask for so little!
Jo-Anne Collis says
My husband and I did just that on Friday…a rare dry day for awhile….raked the leaves up on the agility field…weed wacked them in a garbage can and today(no rain) will spread them on the garden beds…….now the dogs and handlers can run their sport without slipping! some Maple leaves are sure large.
Thanks for all your timely advice and wonderful recipes….makes life easy and fun!….Happy Fall, Kevin!
Linda A says
Kevin, I bought a shredder like yours. Works great. I’m trying to save a
dying tree that was covered with landscape cloth and rocks clear up to the trunk.
Cleared all that out to the dripline, then added a layer of compost-type mulch.
Want to do your newspaper and shredded leaves on top of that.
Here’s the question: Am I going to be sweeping up leaf much all winter? Doesn’t it blow
all over the place? (No snow here. I’m in California.)
Kevin, how about just adding the leaves to my compost bin?
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Linda A – When moistened (either by you or by nature), shredded leaves won’t budge. Mine endure gale-force winds.
We have 3 huge maple trees in our backyard that got some kind of black spots all over their leaves. I have noticed that all maples in the area have them too. Do you think I can still use them shredded in the garden beds? Thank you!
cathy a fox says
best tip about the shredded leaves. thank you kevin
Linda western Pa says
I am in the south hills of Pittsburgh and everyone wonders my secret to an abundance of flowers and veggies. I simply say the soil. I do go down the the horse barn and lay a layer of manure on the leaves as per old farmers in the area. The idea is the cold freezes out the microbes that could hurt you. Then you til it all into the soil in the spring. I also bring bags of coffee grounds from Starbucks and recycle the bags. and spread them on the beds in the winter as well as in the compost pile. HALE THE LEAF!!!!
Linda western Pa says
added note from the Rose society meeting I just went to. Make sure you put Roses to bed with 10-12 of mulch. You can use leaves, but for some reason DO NOT USE MAPLE LEAVES ON ROSES!
Vicki Orr says
I have just recently discovered your blog and I love it! Continually fascinated by all the info there. Regarding leaves. We just remodeled an older house and a part of our yard was used for parking, mixing concrete, and whatever. It’s now a sandy dirty mess. Would mulching our leaves and spreading them as described work on sandy dirt. I’m crossing my fingers for a yes!!!
Hi Kevin I also really enjoy your garden and house! Lovely. We live in Texas with a lot of Oak trees. I was wondering if it is ok to use the leaves that have fuzzy things growing on them that I think are called oak mites or something. We have a lot of aphids in my neighbors yard that I fight constantly. Is it ok to use leaves with ?”bugs?” Thank you very much.
Joyce Lilly says
I have a mixture of hardwood and pine trees. It goes from leaves, to mixed to heavy pine. Can I use the pine needles just like I would the leaves or should I take it easy with the pine needles in my vegetable garden and flower gardens.
Hi Kevin …are pole bamboo leaves good as well? I come from Asia. Thanks!
Judy Mercer says
Kevin – Question (have not read all comments!).
Before I read this info on using leaves, I had bought some expensive mulch and covered many areas. Remember I told you about how our wild turkeys shredded all the newspaper I had carefully placed under the mulch to prevent weeds?
Well, I am wondering if I should rake up all that mulch before I put down my shredded leaves? In some places it has formed a firm cover.
Any advice would be appreciated.
Donna McDowell says
I am concerned about getting leaves from other yards. How do you know if they contain awful chemicals?
Ken Enos says
I have a compost bin full of shredded leaves and coffee scraps and vegetable scraps mixed in. It is my first year on trying composting. It is partially decomposed already. Hope to have full compost by spring.
Thank you for the time you spend on this site. I enjoy reading your posts and the advice you give. Your home is fabulous and I have tried so many of your recipes. My soil is so bad that I have to use container gardening. I have been using the Espoma products and worm castings for the containers. My question to you today is do you use Expoma Bio Tone starter plus when you first plant your vegetables. Their potting soil which I use for the containers suggest using a fertilizer once a month and I am wondering if I use the bio tone do I still have to fertilize. Thank you Kevin.
I have used this tip for years and last winter finally got a leaf vacuum/shredder for my birthday (so romantic, I know!).
Anyway, just a note for other leaf vac users that black and decker just recalled some models due to lacerations.
Sylvie from Montréal says
Hi Kevin. Great post as always. As Judy asked last fall (comment 73), can we put the shredded leaves over mulch? I will certainly try this in my vegetable garden. Thanks and enjoy this wonderful and colourful time of the year that is just around the corner with Lily the beagle.
M. W. Gillis says
In planning for next spring I want to identify the safest mulch I can use for my garden and my health. This is a mixed English garden: roses and multiple annuals and perennials. Two infectious disease specialists told me most garden mulch is a bacterial/fungal stew [saw them for fungal infection after getting a thorn imbedded in finger]. If I shred leaves and place them on garden early November in KS it doesn’t seem this will be enough for spring. What would you suggest?
Dee Lansing says
Love this idea….don’t much like mulch……starting a new bed and would like to use your newspaper idea for weed control…..can I put shredded leaves over the newspaper?
Thanks so much for this site….I just love it….as a mature. (Old lady) I have always appreciated the old Victorian homes and gardens and a quite happy to have a chance to enjoy your home and gardens
Lisa B says
I had the idea to mulch the leaves in my yard and as you described, great idea. Have a problem though that I hope you can help me with. Around my bushes and flower gardens where I spread the mulched leaves there are little tree sprouts now!! Very green looking but not the look I was going for.
Janet Metzger says
Thanks for letting us know that with raised beds we won’t need to buy more dirt if we add leaves. will see if the yard man’s lawnmower will shred the leaves when they start to fall–a few down in the neighborhood, not many.
also same question as above re mix of compost and leaves. right now it is just compost. I assume i could put any extra leaves right on top, make the central hole you suggested and let it sit for 2 years timing from now.
THANK you for the tips!
Gale Dickert says
Love your blog, Kevin, which I share with others!! I have many trees and make good use of all my leaves. My big oaks form a shade garden with stepping stones and a leaf carpet. Thanks for your great suggestions! Do save some of your prettiest fall leaves for decorating. Just let them dry naturally with nice curves and twists –pretty piled lightly in a pottery bowl. Or dry leaves carefully between pages of heavy books, which doesn’t take long. I love to place them randomly down the center of my long dining table in the fall. I often spray dried leaves gold or silver (or both) for the holidays!
I love your blog even more now that I fully understand what a marvelous keeper of the earth you are – haven’t been reading here very long so am really just learning that part. So enjoy the recipes and have tried a few of them with great results. ALSO… I am gonna get these windows cleaned this fall!
Thanks much for what you do here,
Thank you for being the god of leaf much. I live in East Texas and they burn the leaves here! I get sick from the smoke. We have always mulched the leaves, but when we moved here there is no burn ban here unless the drought has been declared. These people (my neighbors) don’t understand that they could be burning poison oak or ivy. They don’t know where the birds have been or the squirrels! All we can do is set examples. Instead of burning limbs, we created a brush pile and you should see the cardinals in the winter or families of rabbits coming out in the spring. All creatures need a warm place to roost in the winter. Thank you for being who you are.
My frustrated husband who has been trying for years to grow grass on the shady side of our house finally hired a lawn service company. The first thing they did was to spread…you guessed it….LEAF MOLD!! I need to find a method to make some for my flower beds. Every year I read your post and vow to make some, but let my husband burn them as it’s easier than converting him..I’ve tried! I’m hopeful that after seeing what the lawn people did that this year that we’ll make some…minus a bagging lawnmower. We’ll be using the weedwacker method!
Kevin, I hope so much you will have the time to answer my question. I am so anxious to know why (and perhaps learn something more from you) about why you do not like “tilling” the ground. Thank you so much for your time.
Texas Lady says
i save all my leaves . I use the riding mower to shred them and blow them in a line, then I go over them with my push mower and bagger to pick them up. lucky for me my grandsons are old enough to mow for me now. we pick them up and put them in a pile out back till I need them,. sometimes I just blow them in big pile and leave them there all winter till spring. my neighbor asked me why I do that, she said it look ugly all piled up in the yard. I said who cares I live in the country. If you don’t like it don’t look over here. I told her she should save her leaves instead of burning them, use them in her yard. her yard has hard clay and she cant grow anything. my yard is full of flowers. I experiment with all sorts of flowers to see what will grow. I have an over abundance of flowers in the spring, I started selling my abundance to make extra money. turned out good for me. I have been saving my leaves for about 20 yrs now.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Janet – I’m don’t till my gardens for 2 reasons.
1) I’m an incredibly lazy gardener.
2) Tilling stirs up weed seeds that would otherwise remain dormant.
Hi Texas Lady — You are my kind of gardener. (Wish I could say the same thing about your neighbor, but alas, burning leaves is a wasteful act.)
I only have mostly oak and some maple leaves for mulch in my vegetable garden. I read they are very acidic and need to add lime to the soil. Does it make a difference whether I put the lime under or on top of the mulch?
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi JoAnn – Recent research has shown that maple leaves, oak leaves, and pine needles do not, in fact, make soil “acidic.” So don’t add lime unless a soil test confirms the need. (We often hear that oak leaves and pine needles acidify the soil — it’s a myth.)
I’ve never shredded- my leaves are small from pin oaks & pecan trees. Leaf mold is glorious- year 5 for me.
If you do this year after year, doesn’t your pH change? And in turn make your soil very acidic which certain fungi thrive and blights occur.
A. Suzette Sykes says
To my pleasure, I stumbled upon your website while researching if live oak leaf mulch is detrimental to my garden. We recently relocated to the heart of Texas from NYC so looking at your photographs makes my heart warm, thank you! Needless to say coming from NYC apartment living to a house and yard in Texas is a big change and I have decided to learn everything there is to know about trees, grass and gardening. With the very little I know (I spent my childhood summers in the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx) in the 6 months we have been here I have decided that saving and reusing everything is cost effective so I have asked my husband to build me something to compost. I want to compost coffee grounds, egg shells, potato peels, carrot peels even tea bags. I also asked him to save all of the leaves from our oak trees, even the mulched acorns to put back into the gardens. My question to you is….coming from NYC apartment living to Texas, what should be my starting point with the garden (my soil is Texas clay)? Thank you so very much!
Why no till policy?
Gail L says
I have used shredded leaves as mulch and to work into new soil, but I am wary of acorns. We have several oak trees, and the acorns have killed the lawn and even plants in the raised beds before we started covering the beds before the acorns drop. It was my understanding that acorns have
toxic stuff in them. Don’t know where I heard that… what is your opinion Kevin?
Connie Story says
When I bought my leaf whacker several years ago, I bought these to use with it:
Makes the job go much faster!
Janet Metzger says
I followed your procedudres last year; the results were quite nice! The yard man who does most of the yards in this neighborhood now saves shredded leaves for me, so each of the boxes gets a bag about once a month. AND I have leaf mould composting in the back corner for extra special dashes of grace. Thank you for the step by step instructions and the yearly reminder!
Oh…thank you, thank you! I live on a mountain…no literally…I have close to zero dirt in places and a massive rock that juts out around the property looking like the yards that people pay a ton of money to have “natural rock” hauled in and artistically placed around the property. The result is that this year I figured out that if I wanted a garden, I’d have to haul in soil which I did and had a good garden (altho I over planted everything and have enough frozen zucchini for 21 more breads.) my yard is basically a collection of miscellaneous moss, weeds, some dirt and LEAVES (read trees on mountains in NC). So I bought your grinder and will top off my garden and growing areas…and the whole damn yard to create a dirt concept for the future.
For the record…nothing to flinch at with your piano playing. Fabulous!
Linda A says
Hi Kevin, Did you change our ability to reply on your other newer posts that came with this one
today? (9/30). I can’t reply to them as I can this one or see how to leave comments on them.
So, I will mention here that I love, love, love your
piano playing. What a talent! Thank you! I think you should cut a CD of your piano music and include it with your next cook book or garden book or maybe just by itself.
Terry L Stites says
Thank you Kevin for everything! Happy fall, ya’ll!
My indoor outdoor dogs love sleeping on the leaves I take up in the fall
Deborah Zillich says
Wow thanks for the suggestion to put the chopped leaves in raised beds. I’ve had a raised bed for 3 years and have been replacing soil every year. This will be awesome.
When you create your leaf piles, where do you put them? Along a woodline? In full sun or part sun or completely shady. I talked my husband in letting me create a pile, but I’m unsure where the best spot would be. I have excessive leaves like you, that we mow over and then I rake the extras up and have been dumping them in various spots in our woods. I love fall raking bc I don’t have to be perfect.
And you’re right about the leaves not turning the soil acidic, it’s acid rain that turns the soil acidic. I believed that myth for a very long time.
Kevin, love you and all you great ideas. I’ve been mowing my lawn leaves for years and putting the donated neighbor’s bags of leaves in my 2 open compost bins unshredded. But thanks to you I am now using my weed whacker to shred right in the compost bins. A much faster result allowing me to use even more leaves. Spring weeds (and all my kitchen prarings) go in the compost bin but nothing that’s gone to seed.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Lori – My piles of shredded leaves are tucked here and there, some in full sun, others in part sun, and some in full shade.
Hi Cynthia – Good for you for taking advantage of your neighbor’s leaves! You’ll find that shredded leaves break down (i.e., compost) very quickly.
Amy Dolego says
Sounds like I had a similar experience to your house – the soil was fallow and I couldn’t find a single earthworm. Since we bought our house in 2008, the year of the great recession, I had to find an inexpensive way to amend the soil and leaf mold was the answer. No one had lived in the house in the winter since 1929 and hadn’t raked in over 30 years (according to neighbors), so I rented a powerful walk-behind blower. It took me 5 days, 8 hrs. p/day, to blow the main areas…the property is huge. Then I shredded with a mower and spread over the lawn and garden areas. The leaves broke down over winter, in time for designing and building the gardens and I had tons of earthworms. In 2012, we removed the broken-down asphalt tennis courts and I’ve been adding leaf mold to that area ever since to enrich the soil along with placing on the flower gardens and the raised be veggie gardens. Btw, I use milorganite to fertilize the grass. It’s natural and it keeps deer out of the yard without fencing. I have well over 400-500 tulips every year with no munching!
My husband bought me a leaf blower that can reverse to a leaf vacuum/shredder – shreds them right into the bag! Best gift ever! Now I just blow them all into one big pile and then switch over to vacuum and shred mode. I’m tempted to take my leaf vac all down my street and vacuum up all the leaves my neighbors so painstakingly rake to the curb so the city can come and suck them up and do who-knows-what with them. One of these days I just might do it! (If only I had a longer extension cord!)
I have not had luck with my compost bins (nevertheless, I keep trying), but I have had great mulch from where leaves gathered along the sides of the garden, and from where we had tree trunks ground).
My inquiry has to do with putting yard waste in the compost: do invasive species, like ivy, eventually die in the compost? Or will seed survive to spread to whatever area you are covering?
Carolyn D Contois says
You make my Sundays, Kevin!!! Thank you
Oh….I’ll be at Omega next….cant wait to see the leaves… I’ll wave to you!
Cookbook Collector says
Juglone Warning: I would Not recommend using Walnut tree leaves for mulching most plants because of the jug lone toxin in their leaves, roots, bark, etc. I’d say limit using walnut tree leave mulch to only plants that can survive and will not be stunted by contact to juglone.
I experimented last year. I made one like in full sun and one pile at the edge of the woods. Both were big piles, maybe not quite knee high. The one is the sun decomposed faster which got spread in the back area via lawn mower. In gpfavt, there wasn’t a single leaf left come summer. The pile in the woodline, however is there. It’s much smaller than what started as….I’m going to ask my husband to clear a bigger spot for more leaf clippings so I can dump most of them there…we have a big yardand leaf raking takes a while to finish. I never leave my yard immaculated bc dome leaves need to be left on the lawn. I’m going to try my leaf blower as it also acts as a shredder….
The Rutgers University Master Gardener Program has another way to make leaf mold or leaf compost. Simply fill large plastic bags (you can use large construction bags available at Home Depot and Lowes or large black garbage bags) with leaves. Add a little water for moisture and to help with the breakdown process. You can add some garden soil or compost if you have it, but that part isn’t necessary. Tie the bag and let it sit over the winter. In six months you’ll have a lovely leaf compost that can be used in the garden. So if you bag the leaves in October, by April your compost will be ready for use.
I have been making Leaf Mold for 3 days now, all my raised beds have a few inches on them now, been raking them off the sides of back roads with my 12′ enclosed trailer. I retired a few months ago and now have time to do these things. If you buy one of these shredders be real careful to wear really good eye protection, I wear goggles (not safety glasses) and a chainsaw helmet with face shield and ear muffs. Thanks Kevin for the tip on this!!!