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.

Next Up

Use Fall Leaves for Winter Mulch

Do yourself, your garden and your community a favor this fall. Reuse those leaves!

Fungus on Mulch: Stinkhorn

Mulch can be the breeding ground for unsightly but harmless growths.

Mulching Options

Whether you choose inorganic or organic, mulch helps your garden grow—and look great.

10 Mulch Do's and Don’ts

Protect your plants and avoid top mulching mistakes by following these dos and don'ts.

How to Mulch

Think you know all about this basic garden technique? Learn tips to get the most out of mulching.

How Deep Should Mulch Be?

Best depth of mulch depends on the plant. Find out what's right for whatever you're growing, plus get more expert mulching advice.

Mulching Trees and Shrubs

Mulch helps minimize weeds, conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, and make your yard look good. 

Q&A: Growth on Mulch

Find out whether fungus growing on mulch can harm surrounding plants.

Fall Gardening Checklist

Essential chores to get your garden, lawn and tools ready for cooler weather.

Georgia Apple Picking, Plus 7 Recipes For the Bounty

Take a virtual trip to a Georgia apple orchard, plus discover seven boozy ways to get an apple a day.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.

What's New in Outdoors


Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Fixer Upper

1pm | 12c

Fixer Upper

2pm | 1c

Fixer Upper

3pm | 2c

Fixer Upper

4pm | 3c

Fixer Upper

5pm | 4c

Fixer Upper

6pm | 5c

House Hunters

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Home Town

8pm | 7c

Home Town

9pm | 8c

Rehab Addict

10pm | 9c

Rehab Addict

10:30pm | 9:30c

Bahamas Life

11pm | 10c

Bahamas Life

11:30pm | 10:30c

Home Town

12am | 11c

Rehab Addict

1am | 12c

Rehab Addict

1:30am | 12:30c

Bahamas Life

2:30am | 1:30c

Home Town

3am | 2c

Vintage Flip

4:30am | 3:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.