How to Mulch Leaves with a Lawnmower – The Secret Revealed

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How to mulch leaves with a lawnmower? The annual fall leaf-drop is one of nature’s most vivid reminders of the changing seasons. It can also be a time of dread for those who still rake and bag leaves. With many municipalities across the country moving to outright bans on yard waste in landfills, homeowners often face few options in disposing of their leaves. One way to solve this problem very effectively is to learn how to mulch leaves with a lawn mower.

Prepare to Mulch

You can shred leaves into useful mulch with any kind of mower, from an old reel push type to a new zero-turn rider. Just keep in mind that using one with specific mulching blades will make the job go much quicker. As such, the leaf shreds will be more uniform. Other equipment you will need is either a bagger attachment for your mower. Alternatively, you can use some sort of way to haul the leaf shreds, like a lawn cart or tarp. Also, don’t put the rake in storage just yet. You’ll need it to access the leaves that invariably get blown under trees and bushes.

Mulching Methods and Advice

  • Plan on doing your mulch jobs on calm days that are not too dry. Remember leaf shreds will blow around quite a bit. Further tip: elevate your mower to its highest setting. This will help prevent the clogging that might occur if your leaves are damp.
  • Mow frequently during the period when leaves are actively falling off the trees. That way you can keep your shred piles from getting out of hand. Otherwise, you might have to use a rake to spread them around. Take care not to smother the turf by making sure the grass tops remain visible.
  • Physically move the excess leaves into your garden for mulch. Do this once you’re at the limit of what your lawn can handle. The quickest way to do this is a riding mower with a sweeper/bagger attachment that could just suck up the shreds and judiciously deposit them in the garden. A more labor-intensive way would be to use a side discharge type mower. That would leave the shreds in loose rows that you could then onto some conveyance to get them to the garden space.
  • Alternate between mulching leaves into the lawn turf one week – then using the bagger the next week to collect them for garden use. This method works particularly well in heavy leaf drop areas with many different types of trees. It’s best to leave excessively wet leaf shreds in piles or rows to dry out before attempting to use them. If you are an avid gardener, these wet leaves will give you a jump on creating the excellent soil amendment known as leaf mold.
  • Let your grass grow a little more shaggy in the late summer/early fall, to take advantage of a significant nitrogen release that a freshly mowed lawn will produce. This, combined with the eventual leaf shreds, will result in a nice green lawn by next spring, with none of the chemical expense or hazards.

Extra Tips

It is tempting to skip the whole leaf shredding exercise and dump them intact in the garden space. However, this will only create a thick, water-impervious mat if they don’t all blow away first. However, if you live in one of the many areas of the country that is currently experiencing a severe drought, you might want to consider delaying the shredding until rain returns. Having the garden mulch leaves corralled into your growing space will make it easier to shred them up in the wetter future.

Certain types of leaf mulch have gotten a bad rap over the years. Particularly oak leaves. The fear was that the excess tannic acid in them would unduly upset the PH balance of your yard or garden soil. This has been disproved by many long term studies. The only thing you have to watch is that the right amount of nitrogen is mixed in with the leaf mulch to initiate the break-down of all that stored carbon.


While not a particularly dangerous job, mulching leaves with your lawn mower does pose a few inherent risks. That’s especially if done in extremely dry weather. On a personal note, wearing a good quality face mask while mowing in these conditions is a good way to avoid the choking dust that comes up from the mower. A durable pair of work gloves, safety glasses and steel-toed boots will protect you from any flying debris.

As mentioned earlier, you might want to refrain from using a gas-powered lawn mower altogether if your location is under a severe drought warning. All it takes is one dry leaf to make contact with the hot exhaust parts, or an unintended engine backfire, and you could have a raging lawn fire on you hands!

Zero-turn riding mowers are fine to use in the initial shredding process. However, they’re can’t really haul anything of significant weight. It was not their original purpose. It always surprising how heavy a load of previously “fluffy” leaves can be. When used for this purpose, the delicate transmissions of this type of mower will be ruined in no time. This results in a super expensive repair job. Even the models that come with a sweeper/bagger attachment require counterweights in the front end to balance everything out.

The Power of Mulch

Making the switch from back-breaking, tedious raking to quick and efficient mulch mowing is a wise move for any homeowner. In a few minutes, you can reduce a sizeable pile of lawn-smothering leaves down to barely noticeable, but highly beneficial shreds. There is also a great sense of accomplishment. You convert a job that was a time-consuming hassle into a delightful exercise in soil enrichment. So, before you give your lawnmower a rest for the winter, use it to help create a bounty of leaf mulch!


Jonathan E. Bass

Graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. I am currently a gardener. I have a small garden behind my house. I love it.

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