Leaf mulch is one of the cheapest and most readily available of all natural fertilizers.  Even a homeowner that does not have any mature trees in their yard can usually find a way to acquire plenty of leaves with just a little bit of effort.  If you do have trees then that fertilizer will just fall from the sky for you to gather and use.  Tree roots go deep into the soil and pull nutrients from the soil.  These nutrients are stored in the leaves.  When you use leaf mulch, the leaves decompose the fertilizers that were stored in the leaves then become available for your plants to use.

Making leaf mulch from your own leaves is an easy task even if you do not have any special tools or experience.  There are tools that can help, but they are not required.  When you create leaf mulch without any tools you can either, use the leaves whole or turn them into either compost or leaf mold.  Some whole leaves, such as oak leaves, are tough and require some time to break down.  A batch of oak leaves that are not shredded can take two or three years to decompose. 

Tools can make the decomposition process happen faster.  You can use a mulching lawnmower, a leaf shredder, a chipper, or a weed blower/vacuum shredder.  If you want to shred your leaves using a mulching lawnmower, just attach your bagger to it and shred them as you mow the lawn.  This will give you a nice mixture of grass clippings and leaves, which you can use as straight mulch or as a compost ingredient.  A chipper is one of the more expensive ways to shred your leaves.  These can cost several hundred dollars, but will make quick work of any leaf or small branches that you might find.  A leaf mulcher is a string trimmer and bucket combination.  Some clever person realized that leaves can be shredded simply using a string trimmer and they are now available for purchase.  I just use my leaf blower/mulching vacuum.  I am not sure if they all work the same but on mine I just put an attachment over the fan and it will vacuum up the leaves, shred them, and spit them out the other end.  It tends to choke up a bit on acorns and twigs but unclogging it gives me an excuse to take a break.

If you do not have trees of your own, you will need to figure out how to get some.  There are a number of techniques that you can be use in leaf acquisition.  One way is to let your neighbors know that you would be willing and happy to take their leaves away.  There are not that many homeowners do anything but trash their leaves.  Another thing you can do is to drive around and see who is setting their garden waste out.  That one takes a bit of nerve because you have to talk to people you do not know and ask them for their trash, unless you are planning to pick them up in the dead of the night.  I have never been a fan of just taking them.  I usually ask and take my “are you crazy?” looks.  Once you have a number of bags you can just follow the above advice on shredding.

Once the leaves are gathered and you have decided to either shred or not shred them, you have to decide exactly what you want to do with them.  One of the big problems with leaves is they are a seasonal crop.  You have more than you think you can ever use in the fall and none the rest of the year.  One way to combat this problem is to store some of your leaves for future use.  Your leaves will not decompose very fast if they are kept dry so you can store them dry in bags until you want to use them.

A gardener can use shredded leaves as mulch without doing anything to them.  Using shredded leaves as mulch means they will break down in one year and you will have to replenish them annually.  Leaves, such as maple, break down in a year even without shredding.  I prefer the look of shredded leaves but that is just my personal opinion. 

You can turn your leaves into leaf mold by storing damp leaves in a pile until just prior to the compost stage.  If you do not turn your leaf pile, you will get finished leaf mold at the bottom and middle while the top and sides decompose slower.  Turning the pile means that the leaves will all become leaf mold at about the same time and you can use that as your mulch or as a soil amendment. 

If you leave your pile of leaves longer, they will become compost.  You can get compost faster by mixing green organic material into the pile.  These greens include grass clippings, other garden waste, and kitchen waste.  Simple hot composting will finish in around three months if you just pile and turn occasionally.  A cold compost pile, which is just leaves and/or a pile that is not turned will become compost in about a year.

If you do not want to have a pile but have room for some bags, you can try your hand at composting leaves in bags.  This simple method simply requires you to put your leaves (damp of course) into plastic bags and leave them for a year.  As with all other leaf decomposition, shredding them first will make decomposition happen faster.

If you are wondering why I am babbling so much about compost in an article about mulch, the reason is simple.  Compost makes clean and attractive mulch, which will also fertilizer your soil.  There are people who prefer the look of compost instead of other types of mulch, and this is a cheap mulch option for those people.

You now know everything (plus much) that you ever wanted to know about leaf mulch as a natural fertilizer.