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Tips for Mulching Leaves – How to Make Composted Leaf Mulch

Mulching leaves is a great way to prevent cold-tolerant weed seeds from sprouting over the winter, and will help your soil hold moisture next year. Best of all – as long as you have trees in your yard –  it’s free!

Don’t let autumn’s natural treasure go to waste; it’s time to recycle those fallen leaves to make leaf mulch!

Fall is the time to make composted leaf mulch. If you make some now, it will be ready to use in your garden next spring.

Keep reading to learn now to turn your annual task of raking leaves into mulch for your garden.

Mulched leaves with words shredded leaf mulch, tips for using leaves in your garden.

Leaf mulch vs leaf mold vs leaf mould

All three terms, “leaf mulch,” “leaf mold,” and “leaf mould,” refer to the same gardening material – leaves. However, they may have slightly different connotations in various regions and contexts.

Collage showing leaf mulch in a bag, and leaf mold which has been composted.

  1. Leaf mulch – This term generally refers to freshly fallen or shredded leaves used as a mulch in gardens. In this context, “leaf mulch” typically describes the less decomposed leaves.
  2. Leaf mold (or leaf mould) – This term usually refers to partially decomposed or well-rotted leaves that have broken down over time. Leaf mold is a valuable organic material that is rich in nutrients and can be used to improve soil structure and fertility. It’s often considered a more advanced stage of decomposition compared to “leaf mulch.” Think of it as a material more like compost.

Leaf mulch (or leaf mold) is eco-friendly and helps create a thriving ecosystem in your garden.

In practice, gardeners often use the terms leaf mulch and leaf mold (or leaf mould) interchangeably. Today, we’ll be learning about how to help nature break down fall leaves by shredding them for use as composted mulch.

Leaf mulch benefits

Leaf mulch is a natural and sustainable way to protect and nourish your garden. Some of its benefits are:

Leaf compost mulch showing benefits of using it in a garden.

  1. Soil enrichment: Leaf mulch improves soil structure, adds essential nutrients, and enhances water retention, promoting healthier plant growth.
  2. Weed suppression: A layer of leaf mulch acts as a natural weed barrier, reducing the need for weeding sessions.
  3. Moisture regulation: Leaf mulch helps maintain consistent soil moisture by reducing water evaporation, which is especially beneficial during dry spells.
  4. Insulation for roots of plants: Shredded leaves provide a blanket for plant roots and rose bushes, protecting them from extreme temperature fluctuations in both summer and winter.
  5. Eco-friendly: Using leaves as mulch reduces waste and contributes to a more sustainable gardening approach.

Can I use whole leaves as mulch?

As tempting as it might be to just scoop up some leaves and add them to your garden beds, this won’t work.  If you do this, the leaves will become matted and this could actually hurt your garden instead of helping it.

Colorful autumn leaves.

Instead,  you will need to shred the leaves to turn them into inexpensive mulch that can be used next spring.

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Shredding leaves to use as mulch

The quickest and easiest way to mulch leaves is with a leaf shredder. This shredded material can be used as leaf mulch, which is beneficial for garden beds and for composting.

A leaf shredder, also known as a leaf mulcher, is a machine designed to shred and reduce fallen leaves, twigs, and small branches into smaller pieces or mulch.

Leaf shredder on a lawn filled with fall leaves.

These devices are especially handy during the fall season when there’s an abundance of fallen leaves in the garden.

To use the leaf shredder, first rake your leaves into a pile. Try to do this when the leaves are dry since they will break down more quickly and shred more easily.

Then use the leaf shredder to grind the leaves, catching the pieces in a bag or large container.

Using a lawn mower to mulch leaves

If you don’t have a shredder, you can use your lawn mower to shred the leaves.

To mulch leaves with a lawn mower, rake the leaves into layers a couple of inches tall. Run the lawn mower over them several times. This will turn them into progressively smaller pieces.

Lawn mower mowing leaves ready to mulch them into smaller pieces.

Place these shredded leaves in a bag or large container.

No matter which method you choose to mulch the leaves, be sure to be safe and wear gloves and use eye protection.

Adding the shredded leaves to a compost pile or bin

Use shredded leaves as part of the brown material in a compost bin.

Compost bin with leaf mulch in it.

Layer the shredded leaves in a pile, compost bin, or designated leaf compost area. Keep the pile moist but not soggy.

Turn the pile occasionally to aerate it and promote decomposition. 

Mix in other organic matter, such as kitchen scraps or grass clippings since this will quicken the composting process.

Adding kitchen scraps to leaf mulch in a compost bin.

In about 4 months or so, you will have composted leaf mulch to use in your garden.

How long does mulching leaves take?

The time it takes to make leaf mulch can vary depending on several factors, including the level of decomposition you desire and the method you use.

Gardener shoveling composted leaf mulch.

Here’s a general overview of the different stages of mulching leaves and the how long they take:

  1. Fresh leaf mulch: This is essentially just shredded leaves that have not undergone any significant decomposition. You can start using fresh leaf mulch almost immediately after shredding the leaves.
  2. Partial decomposition (Leaf Mold/Mould): If you want to create leaf mold or leaf mould, which is more decomposed and nutrient-rich, this process can take several months to a few years. The leaves will need to break down naturally, and this depends on factors like temperature, moisture levels, and the types of leaves used.
  3. Composted leaf mulch: If you incorporate shredded leaves into a compost pile, the leaves can break down much more quickly, typically within several months, especially if you maintain the compost pile properly. Mixing leaves with other organic matter and turning the compost pile regularly can speed up the process.

Leaf mulch uses in your garden

Place piles of the leaf mulch around the crowns of plants, about 2-4 inches deep. Try to keep the leaf mulch about one inch away from the crown itself.

I like to use fresh leaf mulch around garlic that was planted in fall to protect it over the winter months.

Garlic mulch with shredded leaves.

You can also place the shredded leaves on bare areas of your garden beds to help control weeds. Regularly check the mulch layer for weeds and add more mulch if it begins to thin out.

You can also place any left over shredded leaves into bags. Over time, they will decompose further, turning them into leaf mold, which is even more beneficial in a garden.

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Transform your fall leaves into garden gold! 🍂 Learn how to make nutrient-rich #LeafMulch on The Gardening Cook.  🌱🍂 #GardeningTips #SustainableGardening #LeafMold #Composting #FallGarden Click To Tweet

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You can also watch our video on YouTube!

Hands holding mulch and fall leaves with rake and words saying Using fall leave to make garden mulch.

Yield: 1 happy garden

How to Mulch Leaves

Hands holding fall leaves.

Autumn is the time of the year when leaves are in abundance. Don't discard those leaves! Turn them into leaf mulch.

Prep Time 1 hour
Active Time 3 months
Total Time 3 months 1 hour
Difficulty Beginner to intermediate Gardeners
Estimated Cost $0


  • Fallen leaves


  • Leaf shredder (or lawn mower)


  1. Rake the leaves into a pile and add them to a leaf shredder.
  2. If you don't have a shredder, rake the leaves into layers a couple of inches thick.
  3. Mow over them several times with a lawn mower.
  4. Collect the shredded leaves and add them to a bag or large container.
  5. Use the shredded leaves as "brown" material in a compost pile or bin.
  6. Add other materials such as kitchen scraps and grass clippings.
  7. Turn the pile occasionally to aerate it and promote decomposition.
  8. Keep the pile moist but not soggy.
  9. Making composted leaf mulch will take several months. Do this in the fall, and you should have mulch to use in spring next year.


You can use fresh shredded leaves as mulch immediately but leaving it to compost will be more beneficial to your garden.

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