Mother Nature's Free Mulch

I am a big believer that as gardeners we should be feeding the soil, not the plants. To support that idea, each year I add compost and mulch to my garden soil. The compost adds organic matter (i.e. food) to my soil that attracts the microorganisms I need to help my plants thrive. And the mulch keeps the soil moist while also suppressing weeds. 

I don’t have a compost area on my property so I end up purchasing compost from a local company. The same has been true for mulch in years past, but this year I decided to try a more natural, and less expensive, approach. You see, my garden is surrounded by numerous deciduous trees. Most of them are Big Leaf Maples, but there are a few Cherry trees and Alder trees in the mix. Although none of them are actually located on my side of the fence, the trees don’t seem to take note of man-made boundaries when they drop their leaves in fall. Here are some pictures of our yard as the leaves began to accumulate.

In past years this has meant a lot of leaf bags and overflowing yard debris bins left curbside for the city to pick up, process, and sell back to homeowners for a profit. This year I wanted to take advantage of at least some leaves myself! So I bought an electric leaf shredder. 

I have read that shredded leaves can be a great mulch but leaving them whole, especially the gigantic Big Leaf Maple leaves, can be detrimental to flower beds because they can form layers that keeps moisture from reaching the soil. In addition, a layer of whole leaves can take years to break down completely. So the leaf shredder was a must have for this project. 

The shredder is lightweight and was easy to set up. We were ready to shred in about twenty minutes. I bought some paper leaf bags thinking I would shred the leaves into them. It turned out to be easier just to use a 30-gallon garbage bag to capture the shredded leaves so I repurposed the paper leaf bags for collecting leaves. 

These leaf grabbers were a Father’s Day gift to my husband last year and they work really well! You can pick up a lot of leaves with them which means fewer times bending down to pick up leaves. My friend has a leaf vacuum shredder combo that she loves. Some people use their lawnmower and just mow over the leaves multiple times to shred them. Whatever your tool of choice, less time spent bending over to pick up leaves is a bonus.


The process was as simple as dropping bunches of leaves into the hopper of the leaf shredder and filling up the garbage bag underneath. Once the bag was full we lifted off the top of the shredder, replaced the full bag with an empty one, and began the process again. 

When we finished we had eighteen 30-gallon garbage bags full of shredded leaves! 

Here are some pictures of what the leaves looked like before we shredded them and then after they were shredded. What a difference!

It took about four hours to spread all the shredded leaves into my beds. I wasn’t sure how deep to make it so I stuck with a 2-3” depth in most places with less around pathways. It added a nice color pop too! Some of the leaves were a rich golden yellow while other leaves were a deep burgundy red. What a beautiful, natural way to add interest to the garden at a time when many plants are no longer blooming. And the leaves smelled wonderful! Like autumn and sheer happiness! My frog statue appears to be enjoying the leaf mulch!

As you can see below, my son was happiest when the leaves were still whole and piled up, but I am very pleased with the results of our leaf shredding experiment. We used to spend several hundred dollars every autumn on mulch. The leaf shredder and leaf bags ended up costing us a little over one hundred dollars and can be used for many years to come. The only questions I have are how will this mulch fare over time? How long will it last and how well will it suppress weeds? And how long until my neighbors catch on and want to borrow our leaf shredder? Look for a post in the spring of 2020 for a final verdict on shredded leaf mulch, but so far I give it a double thumbs up! Happy Gardening!

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