Transition to Leaf Mulch/mold

Chaska, MN(Zone 4a)

I have several large perennial beds that I use wood mulch on. I have spent LOTS of money over the last 8 or so years keeping it "fresh" looking and deep enough to control weeds. I like the look of wood mulch, but I DISLIKE, that every time I want to plant or move something it gets disturbed and then I get chunks mixed in my soil etc. I also use compost on my veggie beds, but I never get to "amend" my perennial beds because I would have to Remove the mulch, amend the bed and then put it back on. Not happening.

So I would like to transition to using leaf mulch, because I think it breaks down faster, and I wont mind having it mixed in with the soil as much. Also, it will be FREE to "freshen" it up every year... vs. hundreds of dollars!

But here is my question.... Should I just take off my "purchased" wood mulch and throw on the shredded leaves? This seems wasteful. Or should I collect shredded leaves now and put them in some "holding area' for the winter, and then work on transitioning beds in the spring. What kind of "holding area' do you suggest? Do any of you hold onto the shredded leaves over winter and use them in spring?
Why do you like leaves better than wood mulch??
Thanks for your input!

Hobart, IN

Hi, hill -
I've started using leaves as mulch this year. Buying 40 bags of wood mulch, which only covers half of my gardens, was getting expensive and a lot more effort to haul around the gardens. Plus, I never knew where the mulch came from or what was in it and I didn't want dyed mulch either. It seemed like the rain never really penetrated into the soil with the wood mulch on top unless we got a really hard rain. Last fall, DH started bagging the leaves after running the mulching mower over them. Some I stored in big garbage bags to stash over winter until I could mulch in the spring. Some also went to my compost pile where the shredded leaves break down much quicker, giving me compost whenever I needed it this year. (My compost doesn't get "hot" because it's in the shade.) Anyway, I've mulched a few large beds this year with the leaves and I'm impressed with the number of earthworms I find under the leaf mulch and the ability of the plants to stay stress-free during the hotter part of the summer with little rain. No scorching on my Astilbe or a few Hostas that get 4 or 5 hours of sun in the afternoon. The soil itself is looser and not packed and crusty. So I'm pretty much a convert. With the leaf mulch, I'm free to toss out coffee grounds on top of it to speed decomposition as well. As for the wood mulch on your beds, you could rake it up and use it either to amend clay soil by digging it in or put it in a pile elsewhere to decompose. Whenever you dig "brown" materials (like leaves or wood) into your soil, you need to add some nitrogen or the decomposing process will take nitrogen from the soil. Careful though about adding too much nitrogen or you'll have beautiful foliage but no flowers.
I'm no expert though, just reporting how that transition is working in my gardens. I do live in a wooded area so the leaf mulch looks pretty natural.

Chaska, MN(Zone 4a)

Thanks Cindy! I was out today shearing down the big things in my garden that make a mess. I think tomorrow I will be "bagging leaves" with the push mower, and I'll keep them for the winter in big bags, like you did. That way in the spring I can convert areas over bit by bit.
I'm excited you have had good success with this!

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

I keep the leaves I don't use immediately in large black garbage bags also ..
Most is ready to redo ..
Worms eat the leaves pretty quick and the coffee grounds also .. the wood mulch I use to keep the leaves in place when the leaves get dry on top and the wind gets strong ..
Lots of time (sort of) to watch all being (gone with the wind) ...^_^
Nature still makes the best ...

This message was edited Oct 25, 2013 7:02 PM

Hobart, IN

juhur brings up a good point - the wind. If you're using shredded leaves as mulch in open areas where the wind comes through, the leaf mulch will tend to blow around. Ideally, I'd cover the shredded leaves with compost but, since my compost doesn't get hot, I get a lot of weed seeds in it. I did buy a few bags of mushroom compost this past spring to put on top of the leaf mulch in the more open areas with my main goal to improve the soil structure overall. If the garden areas are densely planted (like a lot of mine), the plants will hold the leaves in place during the growing season.

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