Leaf mulching is a great alternative to removing leaves from your yard, whether you use a rake or a blower. The Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em program in Westchester County, New York (leleny.org) is being successfully implemented in 16 towns and villages of Westchester County. The reasons? It’s environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and horticulturally speaking, the right thing to do! Contractors like it, land overseers like it, and so do residents!

Here’s what it’s about.

Mulching (shredding) in-place is the best and simplest solution to the piles of leaves that fall on the ground in the Fall. It is easy to learn, easy to implement, gets great “green” points, and better yet: actually saves time & money! This practice of mulching-in-place offers many benefits:

  • Saves money: In some areas, it helps keep your taxes down by reducing municipal leaf pickup and disposal. In other areas, contractors save on operating costs by needing smaller crews and avoiding dumping fees.)
  • Saves effort: Many homeowners (and landscapers) find that mulching leaves in place actually is easier than raking, bagging, or blowing them.
  • Improves the health of your property: Leaf mulch recycles nutrients into your soil to feed your plants, improves soil health, and helps retain moisture, reducing the need for watering in dry spells.
  • Helps the planet: Transporting and disposing of leaves from your curb wastes energy and contributes to pollution. Leaf mulching helps reduce harmful noise and greenhouse gas emissions in your local community.

By now you’re thinking, “OK, I’m sold! So how do I mulch-in-place?

Leaves are a valuable resource that many property owners let go to waste. Leaves are blown into piles on the street, or placed into bags to be picked up by municipal workers or disposed of otherwise. When left in the street, these piles may create a safety hazard for drivers and wash into the storm drains, clogging storm sewers. Leaves decaying on the street also release nutrients such as phosphate and nitrogen (aka “fertilizer”) that eventually wash into our rivers. Ugh! What a mess!

Leaf piles on street

Leaf piles on the street may lead to unsafe driving conditions, clog storm drains and leach phosphorus into the rivers.

So as a homeowner or property owner, are there better options? How can we be smarter about how we deal with fall’s bounty of leaves? Answer: Leave ’em at home!

It’s as simple as shredding your leaves into smaller, finer pieces. You can shred ’em using a mulching lawn mower, a leaf shredder, a leaf vacuum/shredder, or even a do-it-yourself setup using a weed whacker inside a trash can. Like magic, when shredded, leaf volume reduces up to 10:1!

DPW crew working overtime

DPW crew working over time to collect leaves left curbside.

The trick is to shred ’em “in place” where possible — directly on your lawn into fine pieces which break down over the winter. On your driveway, rake into piles and shred ’em, collect the mulch and apply it to your garden beds 2”-3” thick like any other mulch.

Are there leaves in your wooded areas? Simply leave ’em alone and let ’em decompose naturally. After all, your trees evolved to recycle their leaves, thereby fertilizing themselves and helping to maintain the vigor of their root zones.

Finely shredded leaf mulch

Finely shredded leaf mulch.

The one “problem” area may be your landscape garden beds including ground cover areas: un-shredded leaves can be heavy and damp (especially oak and sycamore) and may lead to crown rot in some perennial species. Carefully pull or rake the leaves from the beds, then shred and apply the mulch back onto the beds.

But wait! There’s more: any excess leaf mulch can be used in your compost pile. These serve as a “brown” layer in your compost recipe. (Shredded leaves in your pile undergo accelerated decomposition.)