Is it ok to use chopped tree leaves from the yard as mulch for the garden?

Asked April 6, 2015, 11:24 AM EDT

I am cleaning the flower beds/yard from leaves by vacuuming them with a blower/vacuum that has a bag. The bagged leaves are chopped/shredded...can I use this to mulch my garden plants.

Brookings County South Dakota

1 Response

It seems like a good idea to use them if you are very careful to use material that does not contain diseased material. For example, if your tomatoes had a fungus or bacterial disease and you vacuumed their fallen leaves in with your other leaves you take a risk of reinfection of your tomato plants.

I found the following on making leaf litter mulch that may be of interest to you in the coming fall. To make your own leaf litter mulch first you will want to rake your fallen leaves into piles and shred them using a hand-held leaf vacuum that has a shredder attachment.The most important thing about shredding leaves is to cut them into fine pieces. The finer the leaves are shred the faster they will break down and can be used in the garden. After shredding place your leaves into black trash bags, moisten the leaves using a garden hose, close up the bag, and poke a few holes into the sides of the bag for aeration If your leaf litter is not getting enough air it will have an anaerobic sulfur smell. Once your leaves have been shredded, bagged, moistened, and aerated stash the bags out of the way for about 6 months. Leaf mold is ready to use when it is soft and crumbly to the touch and has an earthy smell.

Leaf litter mulch is composed of leaf mold, which consists of partially decomposed leaves. Leaf mold can be found naturally accumulating on any forest floor. It is the spongy humus material that you walk upon when hiking through the woods. Leaf mold has several benefits for the forest including conserving water, keeps soil temperatures cool, suppresses weeds, and provides trace amounts of micronutrients such as calcium and magnesium to surrounding plants. You can utilize these same benefits in your home garden beds by making leaf mold yourself and using it as mulch. Making leaf mold requires a “cold” composting process as opposed to the “hot” process used in traditionally composting. With “cold” composting be sure to make your leaf litter mold using only various types of tree leaves and stay away from any material that may contain weed seeds.

To make your own leaf litter mulch first you will want to rake your fallen leaves into piles and shred them using a hand-held leaf vacuum that has a shredder attachment. There are other ways to shred the leaves including using a lawnmower or leaf mulcher; which piece of equipment you decide to use depends on your preference and budget. The most important thing about shredding leaves is to cut them into fine pieces. The finer the leaves are shred the faster they will break down and can be used in the garden. After shredding place your leaves into black trash bags, moisten the leaves using a garden hose, close up the bag, and poke a few holes into the sides of the bag for aeration. If your leaf litter is not getting enough air it will have an anaerobic sulfur smell. Once your leaves have been shredded, bagged, moistened, and aerated stash the bags out of the way for about 6 months. Leaf mold is ready to use when it is soft and crumbly to the touch and has an earthy smell. I bag my finely chopped leaves in November and they are typically ready to be put in the garden by April. When your leaf litter mulch is ready, place it around the garden just as you would any other mulch. Apply mulch no thicker than 3 inches and for the best weed control apply at a minimum of 2-3 inches thick. (http://wayne.ces.ncsu.edu/2011/12/eco-friendly-tip-use-fallen-leaves-to-create-mulch/)