The 10 Best Mulchers
This wiki has been updated 36 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Whether you're a farmer, a gardener in need of enriched soil for plant beds, or a homeowner trying to stay ahead of accumulating autumn foliage on your front lawn, one of these shredders can reduce the amount of time and effort needed to break down that debris. We've included a variety of electric and gas-powered options that function as blowers, chippers, and mulchers, depending on your needs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 30, 2021:
We're happy to report that all of our previous recommendations are still excellent choices. Freestanding models like the Patriot CSV-3100B and SuperHandy Wood Chipper are high-powered, purpose-built units that can tackle acres' worth of debris, while more portable options like the Sun Joe SBJ606E and Toro UltraPlus are great for owners of smaller, residential yards. While they aren't meant for commercial use, we also like the standalone Worx WG430 and Sun Joe CJ603E, as they can accommodate quite a bit of detritus, won't hurt your back, and don't cost a fortune.
March 22, 2020:
Efficiency, capacity, and versatility are all important considerations when investing in a mulcher. Additionally, these machines can simplify the processing and recycling of nutrient-rich materials for use in gardening projects. Not all sidewalks, pathways, gardens, or backyards are created equal, so it's important that these machines be capable of handling a variety of tasks, including an ability to break down large volumes of outdoor debris into more manageable resources, regardless of the size of one's property. We're not saying that you have to run out and purchase an industrial-grade machine that hooks up to a lawn tractor when all you have to manage is a small home with a few bunches of leaves that fall a couple times a year, but we do want to make sure such options are available to you. Included are a mix of both electric and gas-powered solutions for getting the job done.
We've added models like the SuperHandy Wood Chipper and Patriot CSV-3100B for their ability to chew through large branches, leaves, and twigs with ease, the former of which is equipped with a side chute for the automatic feeding of materials up to 3 inches in diameter, while the latter makes use of a direct drive motor to cut down on the costs associated with replacing belts and/or pulleys. Models like these come in particularly handy when used on farms (with tractors) and other properties with large trees and foliage of varying sizes.
Some of our choices, like the Toro UltraPlus and the recently-added Sun Joe SBJ606E, offer convertible designs that allow them to function as blowers, vacuums, and leaf shredders, depending on your needs. For example, you might consider yourself a green thumb with a passion for gardening. You might also live in a suburban neighborhood with a large front yard surrounded by trees. In the autumn months, these leaves will inevitably fall onto your front walkway and lawn, so you'll need a portable tool to capable of collecting them quickly. You may also want the tool to break that foliage down into a concentrated and manageable mixture of nutrient-rich mulch that you can later use to prepare your garden soil for spring planting.
We also consider several freestanding options primarily dedicated to leaf mulching as important options to round out the list. We removed the Flowtron Ultimate and replaced it with a couple more robust options like the Sun Joe CJ603E and Wen Electric, both of which feature safety measures to prevent their motors from operating when the units have been opened.
Finally, it's important to take all necessary safety precautions. After all, these chippers utilize powerful motors, oil and gasoline. The organic materials they chew up can potentially fly all over the place. We recommend using a good pair of safety goggles or even a face shield to protect yourself from flying debris when operating any mulcher. Also, these machines should be stored in places that are far out of reach of any child or person unfamiliar with their operation.
The Benefits Of Using a Mulcher
Twigs, sticks, and small branches from trimmed trees can also be added to these machines.
Mulches are typically defined as layers of loose material or coverings that are placed over the top of cultivated soil. While not a requirement of gardening, mulch is highly advantageous at every stage, particularly if you create your own from dead foliage on your property. Using a mulcher essentially reduces costs for the material, while drastically simplifying the process of yard work.
There is also a sharp decrease in yard waste when using a mulcher. Cleaning fallen leaves from trees can be an annual nuisance. Alternatively, many people choose to turn those fallen leaves into beneficial soil amendments by putting them through a mulcher to create ground cover. Twigs, sticks, and small branches from trimmed trees can also be added to these machines. This creates heavy wood chips in addition to lighter ground foliage, which can be very beneficial to the garden. Tree-based mulches such as these create healthy soil and encourage plant growth in many ways.
Most people who use mulchers notice an immediate increase in the health of their yard. Mulch also saves time spent pulling weeds, as weeds have a difficult time seeding in loose, rough foliage. Even weeds that successfully seed have very weak root systems and are easily pulled up. A healthy layer of mulch also reduces water bills in the summer, as soil loses much less water through evaporation when it is covered by mulch.
Mulch can also improve soil texture. Soil that loses water quickly tends to compact, making it very hard for roots to break through, ultimately inhibiting the growth of many plants. Keeping a layer of mulch on top of such soil and around plants keeps the underlying soil fluffy and moist, allowing roots to easily spread out, which results in happier, healthier plants.
The Basics Of Using Mulch
Once all the yard waste has been turned into mulch, it is important to understand how to use that mulch to provide the most benefit to the yard. It is vital not to place mulch directly against tree bases or plants. When this occurs, it promotes water retention, which can be problematic. Excess moisture from mulch can be the perfect breeding ground for crown rot and other types of wood decay. Mulch piled around plants can also serve as the perfect place for nesting rodents who feed on stems and roots from these plants.
When this occurs, it promotes water retention, which can be problematic.
It is also important to understand mulch thickness. A layer of mulch that is too thin won't provide adequate protection, and it will dry out too fast to provide the soil much benefit. Mulch that is applied too thickly can also be a problem. Wood-derived mulch, for example, may provide the natural habitat for certain fungi to thrive, which dries out the wood and keeps it from retaining moisture. This thick layer of mulch can also damage the soil by keeping it too moist. Soil that is consistently moist and never allowed to dry out is prone to create root rot in many species. A mulcher creates a layer of mulch one to three inches thick in any yard, which is the ideal depth.
Understanding soil microorganisms is also important when first using a mulcher. Before adding a heavily wood-based mulch to the top of your soil, consider adding a source of nitrogen, which is as simple as running grass clippings through a mulcher and distributing them evenly throughout the yard. The microorganisms that decompose wood-based mulches also consume a lot of nitrogen, which plants need to grow. This can cause nitrogen deficiencies when left unchecked.
Organic Mulch Versus Inorganic Mulch
There are two different types of mulch, organic and inorganic. Organic mulch is derived from natural materials like grass clippings, fallen leaves, twigs, and other plant matter. These mulches break down over time. As organic mulches decompose, they add valuable nutrients to the soil around them. They also add microorganisms to the soil, which greatly benefit the health of both the plant and soil. Nitrifying bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi are two examples that can only be provided by the addition of organic materials to the soil. As the levels of these beneficial microbes rise, those that cause plant disease are inhibited.
Some inorganic mulches are designed to confuse bugs or simply keep the soil from heating up and help with evaporation.
A well-mulched garden is the perfect home for earthworms as well. Earthworms play an important role when it comes to plant health. They digest organic matter and create nitrogen in the soil. Their movements also help aerate the soil and keep it moist. Earthworms only exist in organic soils, and their presence increases plant production over time.
Inorganic mulches include things like chunks of rubber, stones, landscaping fabrics, and plastic particles. They can be purchased from any hardware store, and can be painted any color to match the desired landscape. Inorganic mulches usually take more time to install and require extra irrigation, as water is not absorbed by any inorganic mulch. Some inorganic mulches are designed to confuse bugs or simply keep the soil from heating up and help with evaporation. They provide little benefit to the soil or plants otherwise.