7 Methods To Shred Leaves For Mulch, Compost or Leaf Mold

If you’re wondering how to shred leaves for mulch, we will cover 7 quick and simple ways to do so. This guide is equally helpful if you need to shred leaves to make compost or leaf mold.

Can Shredded Leaves Be Used As Mulch?

A woman with long, dark hair faces away from the camera and stares at fallen leaves.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Shredded leaves make one of the best organic mulches. They can be used in vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, permaculture projects, or decorative flower beds.

Every autumn, suburban neighborhoods will be filled with brown paper bags full of leaves fallen from trees that are preparing for winter.

Sadly, most people have no idea what they’re doing when they get rid of these leaves, as they serve an incredible purpose in your garden.

Fallen leaves can be shredded and made into a mulch, which can then be used to protect your soil and retain its moisture while slowly composting into a beneficial organic material that also feeds your soil valuable nutrients.

They can also be shredded and added to your compost pile or used to make leaf mold (or leaf mould), a powerful alternative to peat moss with various excellent functions.

Those leaves can also be left whole and used as a sheet mulch to suppress grass and weeds.

And if you’re curious about mulch, check out my articles on the best mulch for a vegetable garden and the leaf mulch vs wood mulch.

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Wait Until the Leaves Are Dry

A big pile of golden autumn leaves.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

It is best to wait until the leaves are dry and crispy. Trying to mulch wet leaves can be a nightmare.

You should avoid black walnut and eucalyptus leaves as they contain natural herbicides that can stop seeds from sprouting.

Start by raking up or dumping your leaves into a big pile. Pile it as high as possible. I recommend you follow all safety protocols and also wear hearing protection, gloves, and eye protection. A mask may be a good idea, especially if you have allergies or asthma.

Next, choose from one of these options:

1. Shred Leaves Using a Lawn Mower

A blonde toddler girl in a red sweatshirt plays in a pile of autumn leaves.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

An easy way — probably the easiest way to shred leaves for mulch is to use a simple lawn mower as most homeowners own one or can at least borrow one.

Make multiple passes over the leaves until they are suitably shredded and you can watch the video below to see this in action.

Your walking mower may even have a chipper/shredder attachment.

Click To Watch Video on YouTube

2. Shred Leaves Using A Riding Mower

Ten black garbage bags full of fallen leaves on a suburban street.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

If you’re collecting trailers full of bagged leaves from neighborhoods in fall, you will find the use of a larger riding mower the answer to shredding large quantities of leaves quickly.

The key is to approach the leaf pile in a circle and keep riding around it in a circle to make it less messy and easier to collect the leaves afterward.

A second person with a rake can help keep the pile in a neater pile as the other person does the mowing.

3. How To Shred Leaves With a String Trimmer

A woman is raking up fallen leaves on green grass.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

A weed whacker/string trimmer is a great way to shred leaves! They’re pretty cheap to buy, and you can find them used too.

Take a large garbage bin and fill it halfway with leaves, then stick the string trimmer inside and mulch away.

4. Use a Leaf Vacuum With a Shredding Blade

A rake is raking up dead, dried, fallen leaves.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

A leaf vacuum will mulch leaves and deposit them into the attached bag.

Typically, these bags are pretty small so if you have a lot of leaves to mulch and shred, you’ll have to empty the bag quite a few times, which can get tiring.

5. Shred Leaves With Your Car

A green bag full of dried leaves.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

I don’t recommend this as car tires can pick up — and leave behind — substances you don’t want.

But it’s an option nonetheless.

Drive over the pile multiple times until it is suitably shredded.

6. Do You Have a Leaf Shredder?

A gloved hand picks up leaves from the ground.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

If you have enough leaves and a big enough project to shred leaves regularly — leaf shredders specially designed for the purpose exist.

You may want to consider investing in one to use each year.

Or, get a chipper shredder that can handle small twigs and branches too.

7. Do You Have Chickens?

A young girl runs in front of a chicken coop in the fall. Various chickens are running around.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Chickens, ducks, geese, etc. can be utilized to help you make leaf mulch.

Throw the leaves into their run or scatter some scratch grain into your leaf pile.

You can also compost the leaves directly in their coop as part of the deep litter system which is what we use.

What Is The Difference Between Leaf Mulch, Leaf Compost, & Leaf Mold?

A woman wearing gardening gloves is examining tiny carrots in her garden.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Leaf mulch are leaves that are shredded (sometimes whole leaves) and then added in a thick layer (2-4 inches) on top of garden soil, trees, fruit trees, perennials, flower beds, and so on.

Shredded leaves can be used immediately upon shredding as a mulch.

Much as is the case with wood chips, these leaves will not tie up nitrogen as they slowly decompose and break down, except for the very top layer of your soil. That is a myth.

Leaf compost is shredded (or whole leaves) added to your general compost bin, or composted down on their own, until they turn into a rich, organic matter that can be added back to your soil. Usually the leaves are composted alongside things like grass clippings to accelerate the decomposition process.

Composting is a process that attracts and utilizes various beneficial bacteria to do the work.

And finally, we have leaf mold.

Leaf mold (sometimes spelled leaf mould) is shredded or whole leaves that are composted in a specific way that is fungal-dominant rather than bacterial.

The major difference between leaf compost and leaf mold is that leaf mold is made only with leaves (so no green additions like grass) and is then broken down by fungus instead of bacteria.

Leaf mold is probably the very best alternative to peat moss and can be mixed into other compost or into your soil in place of peat moss.

A very important thing to remember is that all three of these things can be used as phenomenal mulch in your gardens. Compost in general makes a top organic mulch.

How To Use Leaf Mulch In Your Gardens

Hands holding radish outside in a garden.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

First of all — what not to do.

Keep the shredded leaves about an inch away from plant crowns. Do not volcano mulch! Volcano mulching is where the mulch is piled up the stems or trunks of a plant — this can kill the plant.

  • Add shredded leaves into your vegetable garden in the spring after the seeds have sprouted, or as you transplant started plants.
  • Better yet — add compost and then mulch with leaves in the autumn as you get your beds ready for winter. The pile will break down about 50% and darken into an attractive, protecting covering you can plant into.
  • Shredded leaves are one of the best mulches to use in strawberry beds. And compost with leaves makes a fantastic compost for strawberries too.
  • Use it for your fruiting bushes and fruit trees, especially mixed with wood chips and/or ramial chipped wood, see my article on mulching fruit trees here.
  • Any permaculture project that uses trees, bushes, and perennials will benefit greatly from shredded leaves.
  • Shredded leaves can make an attractive mulch too so feel free to use it liberally in your flower beds, pollinator gardens (insects and pollinators will lay eggs and overwinter in it) and other beautiful garden beds.

For all the information you need on mulching in your garden, check out my guide Benefits Of Mulch In Your Garden {Ultimate Guide To Mulching} for all the best resources and knowledge.

We’ve covered how to shred leaves for mulch, compost, or leaf mold and how to use leaf mulch in your gardens and on your property — it’s pretty straightforward.

One final consideration — consider letting some leaves alone or creating a ‘wild area’ on your property where you can gently collect leaf litter and leave some of the leaves be.

Why? As useful as leaves are to us and in our gardens, they’re also equally useful to certain native pollinators that may lay their eggs underneath leaves. Those eggs hatch then in spring as soon as the weather is warm enough.

As autumn comes, there is still work to be done in the garden. Some of it is crucial to next year’s success; check out the following guides:

Planting Garlic In Fall

Three bulbs of garlic on a wooden board.
Photo Credit: The Peasant’s Daughter.

Fall is when we plant garlic to harvest next summer. Get my complete guide to planting garlic in fall and get a successful harvest.

Improving Garden Soil Over Fall & Winter

A brown bunny rabbit sits inside a raised garden bed in winter. Snow blankets the ground.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

The best time to improve your garden soil is the autumn before planting. Check out my article on improving garden soil over winter for all of the tips and techniques.

Start A No-Till Garden Now

A flourishing no-till garden full of vegetables.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

If you’re still tilling in your garden beds — you’re wasting your time and damaging your soil while creating more weed problems and unnecessary work for yourself. It’s time to start a no-till garden and reap all the benefits.

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