Image of mulch but Can I Use Lawn Mower to Mulch Leaves?

Can I Use Lawn Mower to Mulch Leaves? Simple Guide to Mulching

Mulch is often, and rightly so, described as gardener’s gold. This distinction is because of the numerous, crucial uses on the lawn and garden, including helping the soil conserve water that would have been lost by evaporation, suppressing weed growth, improving the appearance of the area, and enhancing the soil’s fertility. While the traditional way to create mulch has always been collecting leaves by hand or with a leaf blower, then shredding them, a lawn mower can complete this process faster and more efficiently. So, can I use lawn mower to mulch leaves?

Yes, you can! There are several ways you could use your lawn mower to mulch leaves on your lawn. The easiest way is to mulch the leaves into your lawn using a lawn mower set to mulch or by going over already mowed leaves again with a regular mower to pulverize them. Both work superbly to mulch leaves.

The article below provides comprehensive information on how to use a lawn mower to mulch leaves, the differences when using a riding lawn mower, and the best practices involving leaf mulch to get the best results.

How to Mulch Leaves With a Lawn Mower

Mulching leaves with a lawn mower is an excellent way to clear unsightly leaves from your lawn, keep from suffocating your lawn with leaf litter, and provide a nutritious mulch. Below is a guide on how best to mulch your yard with a lawn mower.

Step 1: The lawnmower

While any lawn mower can chop up leaves after a few passes, the type of mower you use will impact your effectiveness and the labor needed to get the same amount of work done. If you have a standard, non-mulching mower, you can easily outfit it with a serrated blade designed explicitly for mulching leaves.

We recommend using any rotary action lawn mower to mulch leaves in your garden. Two types of lawn mowers excel in this task: high-power mulching lawnmowers and side discharging lawnmowers.  If you want to leave your leaf mulch on your lawn, ensure that you remove the grass catcher from the lawn mower (remember to be careful with the blade).

If you plan to use the leaf mulch elsewhere, leave the grass catcher attached to your mower to save you the effort of raking and gathering the mulch afterward. 

Step 2: Start mowing.

The side discharge mower is best if you want to mulch leaves back into your yard or shred them into finer pieces that you plan to pick up later. If the grass is moist and tall, and the leaf cover is heavy and wet, it is the best mower to use.

Mow the lawn in stripes so that on your next pass, you can cut the discharged strip from your previous pass. Another technique is to mow in concentric circles, allowing you to cut and recut the particles. 

You can also decide to set your lawn mower to mulch. This method is best for grass with average height and for leaves that are not wet but moist to dry. To follow this method, you first need to attach the mulch plug into the lower and close the side discharge.

Go ahead to mow your lawn as you usually would and make another pass perpendicularly to the first to mulch the clippings back to the grass. 

Step 3: Distribute the pulverized leaves.

If you plan to use the mulch on your lawn immediately, you will need to distribute them over the entire area. Use a rake to spread the leaves over the whole yard and to ensure that you cover all bare spots. If you plan to move the mulch to use elsewhere, consider raking up the leaves to a smaller area to leave you less space to cover when gathering them.

A one-inch layer of leaf mulch is ideal to leave over your lawn, as it will wash down with rain and decay over time. If your mulch is too thick, reattach the grass catcher to your mower and pass it over the lawn again. Or you could rake up the excess and use it elsewhere.

Why Mowing Leaves Is Better Than Raking Them

While raking leaves up instead of mowing does have its merits, such as when the fallen leaves have a disease that can survive if left as mulch on the lawn and reinfects other plants; mowing is by far the most efficient effective method to manage fallen leaves. Some of the reasons for this are:

  • In some communities, especially cities, raked leaves are swept up and washed into sewers. They move to streams and other waterways, releasing substances such as nitrogen that lead to algae growth. You can avoid this problem by mowing the leaves.
  • Mowing the leaves to mulch also benefits the lawn that removal by raking doesn’t. You help conserve soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and improve soil fertility.

Other Methods to Turn Leaves Into Mulch

If you don’t have a mulching mower or are looking for alternative methods to turn leaves into mulch, you need not worry. Below, we take a comprehensive look at another technique you can use. 

Another method you can use to turn leaves into mulch is by raking the leaves up and creating leaf mulch, as explained below.

Step 1: Gather and prepare the leaves

The first step will be to rake together the leaves on your lawn so that you can prepare to turn them into mulch. After preparing the mulch for some time, you will better estimate the number of leaves you will need to collect to create mulch for your lawn size. If you are working on a smaller yard, you will only need around one big pile of leaves or more if you are working on a more oversized yard.

As you gather the leaves, try to get rid of large rocks and sticks. While such smaller items will not disrupt the mulch too much, larger ones could disrupt the mulch spreading. 

Step 2: Shred the leaves. 

Shred the leaves before the next step because unshredded leaves tend to pack down and keep moisture and air from reaching the soil. This packing results in anaerobic action (fermentation), which you should avoid. Another argument for shredding your leaves is the twigs.

If you do not want to leave them whole, picking them out can be quite a nuisance. Twigs are primarily an issue when you collect the leaves from the forest or if your lawn has a big, old treed. Leaves that you shred are less likely to pack down. Shredded leaves are one of nature’s best mulches.

To shred your leaves quickly, you will need a shredder. You could buy one designed to work as an attachment that you can fix to your powered farm machines when you need to shred, or you could buy one with its self-contained engine. 

If you cannot access a shredder, you can shred the leaves manually using a pitchfork or a rake, although this will result in larger pieces, apart from being labor-intensive and not the most efficient. You can also use the mulching attachment on the lawn mower to shred the leaves into leaf mulch. 

Step 3: Use the leaf mulch

After you shred your leaves, you can use them immediately. For the base of shrubs and trees, apply a 3 to 6-inch layer. For perennial flower beds, a 2 to 3-inch layer will do, while a thick layer of the

leaves placed between the rows are best for a vegetable garden. Mulches are at their highest efficiency and benefit when you put them around newly established landscape plants, which significantly increases their chances of survival. 

If you collect an excess of leaves, you can also store them in a mulch bin. Unlike a compost bin, which also serves to hasten the decomposition of the leaves, a mulch bin is merely a holding tank, and you’d prefer the leaves do not decompose.

Once the leaves decompose, they are no longer mulch- they are now composted and can no longer serve one of the primary purposes of mulch, which is to suppress weeds. On the contrary, weeds will grow even faster and ultimately defeat the purpose. 

How Do You Mulch Leaves With a Riding Lawn Mower?

Mulching leaves with a riding lawn mower is almost the same as mulching leaves with other lawnmowers. As with other mowers, you can do it two ways. First, you can mow the leaves typically and then go back over them again to pulverize them to the needed size.

With this method, remember to remove the leaf bagging attachment and set the mower for side discharge to make going over the cut grass easier. Second, you can just put the mower to mulch and then go over the leaves and close the side discharge.

The choice of a riding mower is also one of utmost importance. When choosing the mower, get one that has a rear-wheel-drive and is self-propelled. Apart from the mower’s weight, it also has to move the bag of leaves and grass if the bag catcher is attached. A drive system, a rear-wheel-drive, is better than the front-wheel system since the bag of clippings will weigh on the back of the mower and cause it to lose traction.

What Is the Difference Between Compost and Mulch?

Compost and mulch are not similar products. They are fundamentally different and are also used for other purposes. We take a comprehensive look at these two substances below and the intersectionality of their uses. 

  • What is mulch?

It is a layer of material that you apply to the soil surface. Mulching is done for various reasons, including weed suppression, improving the health and fertility of the soil, retaining and conservation of soil moisture, and enhancing the aesthetic appearance of the area.

Mulches are usually, but not exclusively, organic and may be permanent or temporary. You can also make different types of mulches from various materials such as:

  1. Organic residues 

These are among the most popular materials used for mulches. The organic materials include shredded leaves, straw, hay, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, bark, newspaper, and animal manure, many of which also act as a direct composting system. 

  1. Inorganic and synthetic mulches

These types of mulches, such as plastic, are great at holding moisture and suppressing weed growth. Inorganic mulches are also good when used around plantation plantings and other shrubs and trees that do not need frequent fertilization.

However, they decompose slowly and have the disadvantage of decaying slowly and not adding any nutrients to the soil. As plastic mulches decompose, they are also harmful to the environment. Inorganic mulches may also lack aesthetic appeal for many people, although you can quickly correct this by adding a thin layer of bark to the plastic. 

You can also use stone and gravel as mulching material. These materials work well in areas that need good drainage or plants that thrive in additional heat, such as rain gardens. Since these materials are hard to remove, you should choose due consideration before using them.

What is compost?

Compost is a mixture of ingredients that you prepare by decomposing organic material, which you use to improve and fertilize the soil.  Compost uses include improving the soil’s structure, suppressing some soil-borne diseases, attracting beneficial insects to the soil, and holding and releasing nutrients in a slow-release form, which allows them to be available through the whole growing season. 

You can use any untreated organic material to make compost. However, compost needs a mix of green waste (predominantly rich in nitrogen) at the most basic level and brown waste (mostly rich in carbon).

When mixing, an ideal ratio would be around three parts green waste to one part brown waste, although you will still get good compost even without mixing it in this ratio. You can add the compost to the garden at any time to get turned into the soil or used as a top dressing for established plants. The amount of compost you add will depend on your starting soil quality. 

What are the differences between compost and mulch?

  1. Placement- Compost is often dug into the soil while mulch goes on top of the soil, and you do not dig it in. Compost works within the soil, while mulch works on the top of the soil. 
  2. Purpose- The primary purposes of mulch are to conserve soil moisture and suppress weed growth, while the primary purpose of compost is to improve and fertilize the soil. 
  3. Type- While you can use both organic and inorganic materials for mulching, composting requires organic materials. 
  4. Nutrients- While mulch does leach nutrients into the soil, it does so at levels far lower than compost can produce. 

Can You Use Compost as Mulch? 

Yes, you can. Compost to spare will make an excellent nutrient-rich mulch if you have compost. Mulching your lawn with compost will give you all the benefits of non-organic mulches with the added advantage of having nutrients leached to the soil underneath. Rain or irrigation water running through the compost layers will wash down small doses of carbon and nitrogen and improve the soil in the process. 

A two to four-inch layer will work best when using compost as mulch. Place the compost over the soil around your plant and extend a foot outward. As the compost works its way into the soil during the growing season, you can add extra layers around every month, especially during autumn and summer. 

Apart from using the compost exclusively as mulch, another way to use it is topping it with another layer of mulch. After you spread a thin layer of the compost around the plants, you can top it off with another mulch such as shredded leaves. The extra much topping will help keep the compost biologically active and moist, which will be the most effective for your soil. 

So, when should you use compost as mulch? It may help keep the roots insulated with mulch during the winter months and protect the younger plans from extreme ice and snow. During spring, you can remove the compost from around the plants to allow more sunlight to reach the ground and help thaw it. 

Can You Pick Up Leaves With a Riding Lawn Mower?

Yes, you can pick up leaves with a riding lawn mower. Most riding lawn mowers achieve this with a leaf collection system that pushes the leaves into the leaf collection compartment or bag. You do not even need to be mowing the grass. Try and adjust the mower to the top height position and see how effective it is. If it does not work as well as you wish, you can try lowering it a bit. 

You can collect leaves with your riding mower using various collection systems designed to fit your lawn mower model. There are three types of collection systems that you can use, as discussed below. 

  1. The flow leaf collection system

This system is the least complicated system for your riding lawn mower. It uses the airflow created by the mower’s blades to move the shredded leaves to the bag through the tube. On a push mower, you would achieve this by pushing the leaves through the discharge chute to the grass catcher bag.

  1. The belt-driven collection system

In the belt-driven collection system, the blower housing is attached to the discharge side of the mower’s deck. The blower housing protects the impeller fan. A belt on the mower drives the impeller fan to create airflow. This airflow pushes the leaves through the blower tube to the attached bags. 

  1. The pull behind collection system

The pull behind system utilizes an additional engine on a trailer-mounted system to create a vacuum that pulls the leaves into the leaf collection bags through the tubes.

If your lawn mower does not pick up leaves as expected, there are various issues it may be having that you will need to get fixed. These include:

  1. Clogged tubes

To check for this issue, remove the blower tubes and check for any debris stuck there, such as leaves and sticks. Spray the inside of the tube with silicone to prevent future leaf debris from getting stuck again. You can use the silicone spray frequently to avoid the number of times debris gets stuck. 

  1. Damaged mower blades

Inspect the mower blades to see if the sails (which are the high side of the blade) are worn. If they are, you cannot move leaves and grass around the underside of the mower deck to create enough airflow to move the leaves through the tube.

Using the wrong blade or installing one wrongly could lead to the same problem. Ensure that the sail is up and pointed toward the deck to create a good vacuum when installing blades. 

  1. Bad deck belt

On a belt-driven collection system, a worn belt or one that appears to have a shiny glazed look could be causing the problem. In this case, you need to replace it. This issue is also the case for the blower belt. 

  1. Inadequate engine speed

The speed of your engine is vital to your collection system’s operation. The engine needs to run at maximum speed also to run the bagger. If the engine sounds problematic when running the bagger, get it looked at and fix or upgrade it. 

  1. Clogged inlet tube

To check for this issue, remove the bags, and inspect the inlet tube. If it is clogged, clean it up. 

  1. Plugged inlet screen

The inlet screen allows air to exit the hopper to carry leaves up the tubes. If it’s plugged, you lose the air draft the moves the clippings, and the bags won’t be loaded with leaves by the system. 

Since the screen is usually at the top of the hopper out of sight, most people forget to clean it. You can easily clean the inlet screen by hand, using a wire brush for tough build-ups.  Then spray it with a silicone spray to keep debris from sticking.

Final Thoughts

There are several variables that determine the results you get when mulching leaves with your lawn mower. Chief among these is the lawn mower. Are you using a ride or push mower? Does it have a mulch setting? Can I use it to pick up leaves to mulch later? You need to answer all these questions to get the most effective results. Still, the question remains,

Can I Use Lawn Mower to Mulch Leaves?

Yes, you can. As explained above, there are several ways you can use mulch leaves with your lawnmower, whether it has the mulch option or not.

Thank you for going through this article, and we hope it has been informative. You are welcome to leave any thoughts, comments, or suggestions in the comment section below.

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