How to Turn Fallen Leaves into Springtime Mulch

By Matt Taylor, on

Fall is here and the trees are busy dropping their leaves. What should you do with all of these leaves? Turn them into fantastic mulch for the springtime! Fallen leaves are truly the mulch of the natural world and extremely beneficial for your own landscape. Leaf litter in the forest protects soils from erosion; regulates temperature; recycles nutrients back to the trees; retains soil moisture; and provides habitat for arthropods, earthworms, and a plethora of beneficial microorganisms. Rather than ridding your yard of this beneficial product (and then later pay in the spring for wood mulch to be delivered), keep your fallen leaves and develop them into Mother Nature’s mulch.

While ground wood mulch provides all the same benefits as fallen leaves and is most often created from waste wood and brush, removing a perfectly good mulch from your home and then having a different mulch delivered may be an unnecessary effort and expense. If you have the luxury of a space to store leaves, you can reduce your carbon footprint by stockpiling them and using them as a spring mulch. Those leaves that fell from your trees contain essential plant nutrients the trees will need for their next generation of leaves.

We collect many leaves from Peirce's Woods to then be processed into mulch. Photo by Carol DeGuiseppi.

For best results turning your fallen leaves into mulch, shred the leaves prior to winter. Shredding can be as simple as chopping the leaves up with a lawnmower or using tools created specifically for this process. While shredding is not necessary, it will lead to a more consistent mulch that is darker in color. After shredding, pile the leaves into a mound and let them sit for the winter. The pile will decompose during the winter months while reducing in size by about 50 percent. As the leaves age through the winter, turn the pile with a pitchfork about once a month to create a more broken-down humus-rich product, sometimes referred to as leaf mold.  If you do not have an area to store leaves and must have yard waste picked up by a service, check with your municipality to see if it offers a leaf processing service. Some municipalities process yard waste in large batches with a grinder and offer the finished ground product for free pick-up or delivery. 

Here at Longwood, we collect leaves from most of the formal gardens and areas where turf and trees grow together. These leaves are sent to our Soils and Composting Facility, where we process those leaves into mulch using the same steps as described above, but on a much larger scale. Last year we produced more than 1,500 cubic yards of finished leaf mulch.

We process leaves into mulch at our Soils and Composting Facility. Photo by Shawn Kister.

At our facility, we also take wood waste, brush, green plant material, and food waste from Longwood property and produce wood mulch and nutrient-rich compost. When spring arrives and mulching is in full swing at Longwood, leaf mulch is in high demand by our horticulturists … thanks to its high quality and composition that mimics what Mother Nature creates on her own.

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