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Posted on Tue, May 3, 2011 : 11:30 a.m.

Rites of spring gardening include shredding leaves stored since fall

By Jim and Janice Leach


Janice Leach | Contributor

The past weekend saw us dashing into the yard between the rains to be continue with the spring clean up. The weeds, of course, are almost the first plants coming up from the ground, but we also have already impressive rhubarb, baby horseradish, some asparagus, lovage and some herbs. Leaf buds on the currants, the apple tree and the roses assure us spring is coming, albeit slowly.

On Sunday, we indulged in a favorite motorized gardening past time: making leaf mulch. Last fall, the Leaf Thief bagged up most of our leaves as well as some of the neighbors'. We packed our leaves into large paper lawn bags and stored them in the upper floor of our barn, where they became super dry over the winter.

Now that spring is here, we brought the eight full bags down from the barn attic for a leaf shredding party.

We own a very fun, noisy and handy tool handed down to us from friends who up-sized (Thanks, Gloria and John!) to an electric leaf shredder. Our model is actually called Leaf Shredder and is made by Craftsman. It's a light-weight, easy to use tool that can sit on the ground or, even better, atop a plastic garbage can in which we store the extra mulch.

Jim did most of the shredding, and therefore got covered with the most dust. Shredding leaves is a slightly messy enterprise, but leaf mulch is a lovely thing to have on hand for the gardening, so it's very worthwhile.

The shredded leaves help keep down the weeds but tend not to mat down as much as whole leaves do. Like all organic matter, leaves add nutrients to the soil.

We did a quick weeding behind the rhubarb plants and applied a generous layer of leaf mulch. The rest of the mulch is stored in plastic cans until the weather warms and we can move on planting the rest of the garden.

Janice and Jim Leach garden a backyard plot in downtown Ann Arbor and tend the website 20 Minute Garden.


Jim and Janice Leach

Sat, Jun 18, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

Thanks for the comments! The discussion inspired a follow-up post over here: <a href=""></a>

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, May 3, 2011 : 6:02 p.m.

I used to have an electric shredder, then two different gasoine-powered shredders, and shredded leaves to compost every winter. Now I just put the leaves (picked up and partly shredded by our lawn mower) into wire bins and turn them in the spring, adding garden refuse to make compost. I was surprised how quickly unshredded leaves compost if they are turned (pitchfork) just a couple of times. I usually have compost suitable for mulch by midsummer, and suitable as a soil amendment by fall. Here are some negative points about shredding leaves: 1. The dust is hazardous and should not be breathed. 2. It is time-consuming. 3. You are subjecting your neighbors to the noise. 4. Environmental benefits somewhat negated by the power used. A shredder makes some sense for woody plant parts, but then requires a lot of maintenance. Now I let the city have those. Hint: wire bins can easily be made by cutting 3' wire garden fencing into 12 ft lengths and bending the cut ends to the other side, for a 4 ft diameter bin. We cut longer lengths to make an expandable bin that is then tightened up as the season progresses (it takes a greater volume of the unshredded leaves). When not in use, the wire can be wrapped up into a tight roll.

Rork Kuick

Tue, May 3, 2011 : 4:37 p.m.

I compost mine. So I am now spreading the finished product from 2009 leaves. Maybe I get 5-6 cubic yards, and I have never had more than I wanted, it being the basis for my entire gigantic gardening effort. I apply chopping strokes with my (sharpened) shovel in summer when turning the pile over, but my shoulder is telling me to get a large lawn mower and chop them up initially that way in fall instead. I'll keep on using my no fossil fuels, less machines to maintain and store, and less noise methods while I still can though. Being efficient of time is not the only goal. Most folks won't have the space to do it like I do, but perhaps they only want 20% of what I want. Like the &quot;Leaf Thief&quot;, I am greedy. My 2010 leaves are now a huge pile, accepting kitchen scraps, weeds, gardening debris and later, lawn clippings. (Folks with the over-fertilized lawns have no doubt had to mow already.) I miss the old days when I could obtain horse barn-remains easy. I use the result to amend soil and as mulch. With the composted version, I may have less worries about causing a crash in nitrogen levels in the dirt. One nifty side effect of mulching my vegetables like spinach - the stuff I pick is almost perfectly clean. It stops the splashing of dirt by rain drops I figure.

Jim and Janice Leach

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 12:44 p.m.

Leaves make wonderful compost. It's true that most people don't have the space to compost leaves; that takes a lot of space. We do a simpler version of composting leaves. In the fall, we cover our beds with a thick layer of leaves and leave them on the bed all winter long. It's truly amazing how much they breakdown over those winter months. By spring, the layer is significantly diminished, which means the soil is that much richer with organic materials.


Tue, May 3, 2011 : 1:08 p.m.

Leaf mulch is wonderful. We mulch a lot of ours by just running over them with a lawn mower, although I might look into getting a leaf mulcher since that is probably easier.

Jim and Janice Leach

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

Using the lawn mover to chop up and gather leaves is another good technique. One drawback of owning the leaf mulcher is that it's a one-task tool, not good for anything else. As such, it's a good tool to share with someone else.