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Turning Trash Into Treasure

By Paul James

Carrie and I have a motto: No leaf leaves the property. That’s because over the years we’ve learned that nothing has the ability to transform so-so soil into super soil better and faster than leaves. Seriously. Nothing. But it’s best if you shred them first so they’ll decompose faster. Here’s how we do just that.

Mulching Mower

In the lawn, we simply mow the leaves with a mulching mower, and it does a great job of shredding the leaves into tiny particles that break down quickly, releasing nutrients and adding valuable organic matter to the soil. We do this over the course of three weeks or so rather than waiting until all the leaves have dropped to prevent the mower from bogging down.


We use a blower that converts to a shredder with a leaf bag attached. It’s great for getting leaves out of garden beds and corners, and for sucking them right off evergreens, barberries, and other plants that have a tendency to catch leaves. The leaves get chopped up into fine particles, ready for use in the garden. For details, go to


Our dedicated leaf shredder is a workhorse. It’s basically an electric motor that uses a weed trimmer line to get the job done, reducing 11 bags of leaves into just one. You fill the hopper with dry leaves, and once shredded, they drop into an attached bag or onto a tarp. See it at

String Trimmer and Trash Can

This is a fun and very effective way to shred leaves. Just fill a trash can with leaves (the drier the better), and stick your string trimmer into the can as though it were an immersion blender to make a soup or sauce.

(By the way, when shredding leaves, protect yourself from dust by wearing a mask — shouldn’t be hard to find! — and protect your eyes with goggles. Ear protection is a good idea too.)

Doggie Duty

Quite by accident, we discovered a fairly effortless way to shred leaves — we let our dogs do the work for us! We have a chain-link fence on one side of our backyard that faces the street. Our dogs love to run back and forth along the fenceline when our neighbors walk their dogs. As a result, grass won’t grow there, so we decided to pile leaves along the run so our dogs’ feet wouldn’t get muddy. To our surprise, within a month or so the dogs shred the leaves, which we simply scoop up and use.


So what do we do with all our shredded leaves? Roughly half of them go into our raised beds in the vegetable garden. We add about a three-inch layer to each bed and let them rot over the winter. By the following spring, the leaves have decomposed into what’s called leaf mold, which is the best soil amendment money can’t buy. We sprinkle each bed with about two pounds of blood meal (which is pure nitrogen) to speed up the decomposition process.

The rest of the shredded leaves go into the compost pile, and they too decompose by spring. The finished compost gets added to the raised beds, as well as ornamental beds and containers.

You can use shredded leaves as mulch in ornamental gardens, but on windy days they may blow away. To keep them in place, cover them with bark mulch and they’ll decompose fairly quickly beneath the bark.

So rather than bagging your leaves and tossing them into the trash, think of them as treasure. You’ll be amazed at the difference they make in the health of your soil…and your plants.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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8 responses to “Turning Trash Into Treasure”

  1. Laura Collins says:

    Love this! Thanks so much for all the great suggestions.
    I love leaves too. Why not put them to work? I ❤

  2. Greg Rosta says:

    Hi Paul,

    I love this article! I picked up one of those electric leaf mulchers this year, and it was the best thing I bought in a while. I’m actually taking leaves from other people, just to shred me some of that leafy-composty goodness!

    Question for you…Can I store veggie seeds for next year’s garden in the garage? Or do I have to keep them in the fridge (as I’ve read)? Does it depend on what type? Winters near me can get chilly, but last year’s was kinda warm…


  3. Patty W says:

    I have used the trash can/string trimmer method for about 3 years. However this fall, I used a 30 gallon., rectangular, Plastic, storage container and move the string trimmer left and right in the container. Works much better and seems safer! Then, dump the shredded “gold” into my flower beds!

  4. Carol Carley says:

    I have a tall fescue newly sodded lawn and way too many leaves to rake off. Okay to leave mulched leaves on lawn? Recommended fertilizer for fescue?

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