Don’t Waste Those Fall Leaves: Mulch Them!

Tips for turning those fall leaves into garden treasure.
Pyrus calleryana ~Autumn Blaze~ (02) Fall

Pyrus calleryana ~Autumn Blaze~ (02) Fall

Don't send that beautiful fall color to the landfill. Mulch your fall leaves.

Don't send that beautiful fall color to the landfill. Mulch your fall leaves.

The colors of fall foliage are undeniably majestic. As summer greens give way to a stunning palette of gold, orange, yellow, and red, the heart warms in contrast to a rapidly cooling climate. Truly the splendor of the season.

But then you look down.

The majesty is falling from those trees at an alarming rate, blanketing the yard with those same leaves of gold, orange, red and yellow. The heartwarming beauty of autumn suddenly looks more like a chore as you realize something has to be done with all those leaves.

Like many of you, I used to dread raking. Sure, the opportunity to leap with abandon into a huge pile of leaves in the middle of the yard makes for a grand ol’ time. But the effort is hardly worth the payoff and eventually those leaves would be bagged and hauled away by public works for composting or, worse yet, added to the municipal landfill.

Composting at home is a better solution.  But why wait? With a little effort, converting leaves to mulch using a shredder, weed whacker, or even a lawn mower is an economical and effective way to produce a nutrient-rich mulch for lawns, landscapes or garden plots as the cooler months descend.

Why mulch in the fall?

Spring mulching is a no-brainer. A healthy layer of mulch over planting beds is a quick and effective way to keep weeds at bay. But weed control isn’t the only reason mulching is such a powerful tool for the home gardener or landscaper.


Adding a layer of 3 or 4 inches of mulch as the weather turns cold keeps the soil below warm, encouraging root health in plants during dormancy and extending the growing season for fall crops.

Soil Nutrition

Those deep-rooted trees have been pulling nutrition from the soil all summer long. It’s time to return the favor. Most leaves are packed with nutrients like phosphorus and potassium. Adding this carbon-rich mulch also encourages the growth of soil microbes (bacteria and fungi) beneficial to soil health. Note that excessive carbon can inhibit nitrogen productivity. If nitrogen is an issue in your soil, consider balancing your mulch with a  slow-release nitrogen fertilizer.

Moisture Retention

Mulch helps the soil hold moisture. That’s good for plants. ‘Nuff said.

Protection from Soil Erosion

Exposure to wind, rain and snow breaks down soil, drastically reducing fertility. A protective layer of mulch just a few inches deep during winter months can make all the difference in producing healthy crops when planting season rolls back around.

When the snow has melted away and the first signs of spring emerge, you’ll find this cheap and effective layer of organic matter has broken down nicely, leaving behind healthy soil ready to accept the bounty of a new growing season.

With a new purpose, tending to the fallen leaves doesn’t seem like such a fruitless chore.

Feel free to jump into that leaf pile a few times before you get down to business.

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