Leaf Mulch – Free Soil Amendment for Your Lawn & Garden

— Written By and last updated by Elisabeth Purser
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LeavesPound for pound, leaves can do more to improve your garden than any lawn or garden product available. And they are free and natural! In forests and other natural settings, tree leaves and other organic materials form a natural carpet over the soil surface that conserves moisture, modifies temperatures, and prevents soil erosion and crusting. In time, bacteria, fungi, and other natural occurring organisms decompose or compost the leaves and other organic material, supplying the existing plants with a natural, slow release of nutrients. Yet every fall I see neighbors raking leaves to curb and bagging them to be carried to the landfill. Then in the spring those same folks head to the garden center to purchase mulch for their garden. We should learn from nature! 

Think of leaf mulch as compost waiting to happen! It is the closest available substance to the organic soil layer that all gardeners are trying to achieve. It is an excellent growing medium and a weed suppressor. Also called leaf mold, leaf mulch is rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium essential for vegetables and other plants. As leaves decompose they slowly release nutrients and micronutrients into the soil that are not normally found in commercial fertilizers. Leaves also serve as food for earthworms, and we all know the value of earthworms in our garden. 

Leaves should be shredded prior to being used as mulch. Shredding hastens the decomposition process. Four inches applied in the fall may be three inches by spring. Shredding prevents matting and allows the penetration of air and water. Shredded leaves don’t blow like intact leaves do, so they stay in place. 

Work leaf mulch into the soil as an amendment to modify clay or sandy soil, increase the amount of organic material, and prevent compaction. Add a two-to-four-inch layer on top of the soil. You can leave finely shredded leaves on your lawn that will filter down among the blades of grass resulting in a healthier lawn that needs less fertilizer. 

So don’t toss those leaves—mulch them. If you don’t have trees or any source of leaves, become a leaf rescuer and liberate those bags that others leave at the curb!

Join the Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers of Union County for their Successful Gardener program on Composting 101, presented by the Class of 2020 on October 7, 2021, at 7 p.m. at the Union County Ag Center. We will meet near the greenhouse in the Teaching Garden.