The 10 Best Leaf Mulchers
This wiki has been updated 31 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Cleaning up the yard isn't the most exciting task, but one of these handy leaf mulchers can make the chore much easier. We've included light-duty shredders, units that double as blowers and vacuums, and some powerful models capable of handling branches up to 2.5 inches thick, so there should be a cordless or gas-powered option for you, no matter the size of your property or your budget. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 15, 2020:
Leaf mulchers are essentially split into two categories, leaf blowers with mulching capabilities, and standalone units that you manually dump leaves into to be shredded. Even after removing five of our previous entries, we made sure to keep a fairly balanced variety of both types in this update.
We ended up removing the high-end Husqvarna 125BVX from our list. Though it appears to be a great leafblower, its leaf mulching ability just wasn't up to par. We replaced it with another cordless option, the battery-powered Greenworks 24322. Its plastic impeller makes it a little less durable than our options with metal impellers - like the Toro 51621 UltraPlus - but if you don’t think you’ll be sucking up many branches or debris, that shouldn't be a huge deal.
We also replaced the Toro Ultra with its updated model, the Toro 51621 UltraPlus. This new addition also features a detachable 8-foot tube that makes it much easier to dump mulched leaves directly into your yard waste receptacle. If you need even more distance, this tube can stretch up to 16-feet in length.
If you’re looking for something productive to do with your mulch, you might want to consider using a compost tumbler. These rotating containers are used to turn your yard waste, food scraps, and other biodegradable waste into valuable compost.
Or, if you have more than just leaves you need to process, one of these wood chippers might be a better choice. Their wide funnels and raw power make these machines more dangerous than these leaf mulchers though, so you’ll need to pay close attention to the recommended safety protocols.
April 16, 2019:
There are two main types of mulchers. Leaf vacuums with internal impellers are great for ripping apart yard waste in situ, whether you plan on leaving it in place to encourage water retention or are trying to winterize your lawn. Then there are larger, stationary options, the most powerful of which can also tackle much thicker branches. If you're looking for one of those all-purpose models, the Tazz and the Patriot are your best bets. The Tazz is reasonably affordable considering its power, while the Patriot is much more costly and can tackle all but the thickest branches. The Flowtron and Worx free-standing units are relatively easy to use, mostly because you won't have to carry a heavy tool around the whole yard, but keep in mind that they aren't able to pulverize solid wood like the two gas-powered chippers are.
The Toro, Black and Decker, and Sun Joe perform on similar levels, but the Black and Decker comes with very well-made attachments as well as a trustworthy pedigree. The Toro, it should be noted, has an impeller made fully of metal, which helps it stand out in terms of durability. If you're on a budget and don't mind a little higher noise level, the Teccpo 12-Amp is a well-priced choice that offers power on a par with more expensive models. The Worx WG518 is also reasonably affordable and is every bit as powerful as any of the other portable leaf vacuums.
Picking The Perfect Leaf Mulcher
Blowers also offer superb portability; you can easily bring them to the leaf pile no matter where it is in the yard.
There are essentially two categories of leaf mulcher: leaf blowers that can have their airflow direction reversed to suck up leaves, and standing units into which you feed scoops of leaves.
The blower approach has two obvious merits, the first being that these units can be used to gather leaves into a pile in the first place, not to mention blowing pine needles, dust, pollen, and many other materials off of your yard, your patio, walkways, streets, and so forth.
Blowers also offer superb portability; you can easily bring them to the leaf pile no matter where it is in the yard. Their drawbacks come in the form of speed and capacity. A leaf blower used to gather and chop leaves processes them more slowly than a standing leaf mulcher does, and it requires frequent, often messy, emptying of its storage bag.
Standing mulchers are heavier and require more effort to set up initially, but once in place and ready, these units can handle dozens of gallons of leaves per minute, making short work of even the largest leaf piles. A good mulcher can reduce leaf piles by a factor of ten or more, maximizing ease of disposal, or helping you to prepare huge batches of useful leaf mulch.
You can get a decent leaf blower without breaking the bank, or you can spend considerably more for a top of the line mulcher/chipper unit. Ultimately, the size of your property and the volume of material you're confronting will be the best way to inform your choice.
Leaf Mulch Vs. Leaf Mold
Simply put, leaf mulch is nothing more than chopped up leaves. It's what you do with your leaf mulch after the initial collection and grinding process that counts. Fallen leaves present the savvy gardener and/or landscaper with a free bounty of versatile material. Leaves can be chopped into mulch useful for myriad tasks, from protecting seeds to fertilizing crops to creating an attractive ground covering used as a design element. If you wish to use leaves as a ground cover, only pass them through your mulcher one time, as you'll want a mixture of material size to create the pleasing look mulch provides.
A more feasible approach is to designate an area of your yard in which you can build a pen of sorts large enough to accommodate a few dozen cubic feet of shredded leaves.
Keep in mind the fact that you will have to refresh the top layer of your leaf mulch periodically as it breaks down. (And don't use leaf mulch without a layer of fabric or plastic underneath it during the spring or summer if your property is prone to weed growth -- mulch made from leaves can actually enhance weed growth rather than restricting it if given the right circumstances.)
If you wish to put your leaves to work helping ready the next season's soil for new growth, there are a few more steps to take. Leaves are rich in nutrients that can play a huge role in creating superlative compost useful for raising edible foods and brilliantly flowering plants. However, leaves on their own can't create compost; rather, they play a key role in balancing out the green components of compost, such as food scraps and live weeds or trimmed plants. To use leaves in composting, you must first grind them into leaf mulch, and then break them down into leaf mold, a nutrient- and mineral-rich material that is easy to spread about once ready.
Making leaf mold is easy, but requires patience. The simplest way to do it is to make a huge pile of shredded leaves and then wait for a few years. A more feasible approach is to designate an area of your yard in which you can build a pen of sorts large enough to accommodate a few dozen cubic feet of shredded leaves. Dump your chopped up leaf mulch into this pen and plan to keep it moist and, at least once a week, move the material about with a pitchfork, rake, or shovel. Another alternative method is to use a compost tumbler.
If you keep shredded leaves moist and moving, you should have leaf mold within six months. Leaf mold is deep brown in color and will be soft, moist, and delicate, easily crumbling in your fingers.
The Best Way To Use Mulched Leaves
Mulch can be loosely defined as any material spread out on the soil (or in beds or planters and so forth) that is intended to alter the ground environment, be it in aesthetic and/or physical ways. In other words, mulch can help your yard look great and it can help keep the soil and plants within it healthier and more robust.
If you have thicker, drier leaf mulch you wish to use for decorative purposes, make sure to lay it on thick, as it were.
If you took the time to make a batch of leaf mold, then the shrubs, flowers, and crops you plant or revive in the spring are going to have quite a fine rest of the year thanks to the nutrients this unique material imparts. You should spread leaf mold around perennial plants, shrubs, and vegetables. Make sure never to apply leaf mold in a thickness of more than two inches, and keep the material several inches away from the actual stalk of a plant; leaf mold retains so much moisture it can actually prevent a plant from getting the water it needs if spread too thickly or close to a plant's roots.
If you have thicker, drier leaf mulch you wish to use for decorative purposes, make sure to lay it on thick, as it were. Creating a deep layer of mulched leaves is the best way to prevent weeds from making their way up through the covering, and thick layering will help you achieve a uniformity of appearance, as well. Consider spreading a layer of non-mulched leaves first and then piling a layer of mulched leaves on top; this will further inhibit weed growth and will slow the breakdown of the top layer.