When fall hits and leaves start to drop off trees in droves, gardeners have to decide what to do with them. As a good citizen of planet Earth, I hope your decision will be to recycle them!
Leaves are often referred to as “gardener’s gold.” They are so rich in organic matter and minerals that they can easily replace expensive (and polluting) fertilizers. You can add them to your compost (or set a few bags of them aside for next year’s compost pile), you can apply them as mulch to your flower and vegetable beds (or you can mix them into an existing mulch), you can simply toss them into a wooded area, you can even leave them on your lawn if they’re not too thick, etc. What you don’t want to do is to just throw them away.
But if you want your leaves to decompose adequately, you’ll need to shred them first.
True enough, this is less of an issue for small leaves (leaves of black locust, crabapple, birch, etc.), but large ones (leaves of Norway maple, red oak, etc.) cause problems if they’re left intact. They tend to clump together to form an impenetrable barrier that the plants underneath have a hard time penetrating, for one thing.
Plus, leaves that are left intact tend to blow around and annoy neighbors who might not be as eco-friendly as you are. Shredded leaves, by some miracle of physics, do not clump together, nor do they blow around (apply them, water once to settle them, and you’ll see what I mean).
Oak leaves cause their own special problem: they are notoriously slow to decompose if you leave them as is. Chop them into tiny pieces and they change completely, decomposing in a matter of months.
And yes, you can use diseased fall leaves in the compost and as a mulch, in spite of where some authorities claim. Read here for more information on that subject.
4 Methods for Shredding Leaves
1. Use the Lawn Mower
The easiest way to shred the leaves is to simply spread them on the lawn (if they are not there already) and mow them. Yes, with your lawn mower. Most lawn mowers today have mulching blades anyway: they’re designed for chopping leaves. The mower will shred your fall leaves into tiny little pieces, just the right size for the compost bin, for mulch or for leaving on the lawn!
2. With a Leaf Blower
If you have a leaf blower (also called a blower vac), just put it in vacuum mode and add the collection bag. Not only does it pick up leaves, it shreds them too. Afterwards, just pour the chopped leaves wherever you want them to go.
3. Try a String Trimmer
Pour the leaves into a large trash bin and insert a nylon string trimmer (weed whacker). Turn it on and raise and lower it as if you were making a leaf milkshake. The leaves will be cut into small bits, the perfect size for use in composting and mulch.
4. Snow Blow Your Leaves
It’s an innovative idea, but some people do use their snowblower to shred leaves. In fact, a powerful snow blower will shred piles of leaves in no time, much faster than any other tool. Just direct the blower chute where you want the leaves to go … and get to work!