So it’s fall season, and your yard is covered with piles of dead leaves. You’re wondering whether you should leave those leaves or put in the effort to rake them up. Or maybe go budget-friendly and use the dead leaves as organic mulch. Well, the good news is you have options!
Dead leaves make excellent mulch for your garden as they keep weeds away, retain moisture, control soil temperature, and enrich your soil. So it’s fine to leave them as they are and mulch on them.
However, some believe mulching over dead leaves isn’t a good idea as it blocks water and sunlight. I think the key is to find the right balance for your garden. Let’s see how.
Mulching over dead leaves can be a great idea for various reasons. First, leaves can massively benefit your soil as they release nutrients back into the soil after decomposition. They also help regulate the soil’s temperature, preventing issues such as soil erosion.
Second, mulching on dead leaves can save you hours of raking and bagging the leaves. Instead of doing this laborious task, you can simply use a mower or a leaf mulcher to shred the leaves and leave them right where they are.
Finally, leaving dead leaves is better for the environment and wildlife. That’s because the leaf layer is the habitat of different wildlife species, such as frogs, toads, salamanders, chipmunks, and thousands of insects.
Before you go ahead and apply your mulch over dead leaves, there are some things to consider. Sometimes, it’s not the best practice to mulch over dead leaves.
For example, if the leaves form a thick layer of more than a few inches, they can prevent water, air, and sunlight from reaching the ground.
We like mulch for its ability to retain moisture, control soil temperature, deter pests and weeds, and improve our plants’ overall health. However, using thick layers of dead leaves as mulch can do the opposite.
When leaves form a thick layer, they can retain a lot of moisture, eventually damaging your plants and making them susceptible to fungal infections and rot.
In addition, applying mulch over a thick layer of dead leaves can create an ideal environment for pests and timid wildlife such as voles and mice to thrive.
Another drawback of mulching over dead leaves is that the leaves will act as a barrier, preventing your mulch from contacting your soil.
This long decomposition process might hinder your soil from reaping the benefits of your mulch, which isn’t optimal, especially if you invested in a high-quality mulch.
So what’s the final decision, rake up the leaves or mulch over them?
To reap the benefits of dead leaves and avoid their drawbacks, we recommend chopping them finely using a leaf shredder or a mower. That way, you’re chopping leaves into smaller pieces, which helps them break down quickly and evenly and prevents matting and blocking water and air.
After shredding the leaves, apply a 2-3-inch layer evenly in the area you want to mulch. You can also spread the shredded leaves on wooded areas, under shrubs, and around perennials. Don’t forget to leave a gap around your plants’ base to avoid moisture buildup.
If the layer is thin enough that you can see through the soil or the old mulch, then there’s no need to shred the leaves. Apply your mulch (straw or bark) over the leaves, and they’ll decompose fast enough. Then, water your mulch so that it settles in place.
Can you mulch over dead leaves? Of course, you can. Dead leaves alone can make excellent mulch for your yard. They retain moisture, eliminate pests, control soil temperature, and transfer nutrients to the soil after decomposition.
On top of that, dead leaves are a primary home to many wildlife species, so by leaving them as they are, you’re improving your soil and helping the environment, too.
But before you mulch over dead leaves, it’s crucial to check the thickness first. If the leaves form a thin layer that you can see the soil or old mulch through, there’s no need to shred them. If they form a thick layer, it’s best to shred them first using a mower or a leaf shredder.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.