How the Professionals Mulch
As landscapers, with professional grade equipment you are in a great position to save time and money by switching to leaf mulching. Mulching leaves involves switching to mulching blades and closing your mower deck’s exit chute so that the leaves stay in the deck for another rotation so they get chopped into smaller pieces.
Please see the How to Mulch page for mulching basics.
With the right equipment, you can simply mow leaves into lawns. Deep piles of leaves can be also be mulched, avoiding the necessity of bagging or hauling leaves off site. To see how a properly equipped machine easily mulches deep piles of leaves watch this video.
It’s important to use mulching blades for good leaf mulch. The blades are designed to keep the leaves (and grass if you are mulching grass) up in the mower deck for a couple of cycles, which ensures that the grass and leaves are repeatedly chopped so that the pieces that are left on the ground are very small and can fall between grass blades.
Most lawnmowers are already equipped with mulching blades as most landscapers mulch grass clippings and leave them on the lawn. It is important to keep your blades sharp. Mulching blades are easily purchased from local mower stores or ordered online. Many of the landscapers we know prefer the Gator blade for mulching heavy leaf piles.
Gator blades, which have teeth, are well worth it. (The blade with teeth in the photo.) They’re more efficient for large piles of leaves than regular mulching blades and should be placed in the mower once regular grass mowing season ends. Here is a good source for these blades.
Here’s an important tip from Tim Downey of Aesthetic Landscaping: When purchasing a leaf mulching blade, make sure you get the right kind. The red blade is (picture below) is NOT what you want. The direction of the teeth is important. On the red one, the blades “yield” and bend away from the direction of contact. The lower two blades “lean” into the direction of contact. Note, too, the red blade has blunt square teeth, whereas the lower two blades have sharp pointed teeth.
And this video gives you some key tips on how to assess a property for mulch mowing and how to mulch to your advantage – to save time and money.
Professional Mulching Equipment
Here is an overview of different types of equipment that can be added to your regular mowing equipment in order to offer a more professional mulching service.
The Vulcher 2
The Vulcher 2 is an attachment to a commercial mower deck. Vulchers are available to fit all commercial mowers; depending on the size they generally cost less than $300. Landscapers have told us they cover this cost within days – if not in one day – because of the time saved by mulching. The Vulcher 2 ensures that leaves are smaller than a dime in size before dropping to the ground.
Metal Plate Option
If you don’t want to use the Vulcher 2, another route is to use a Gator blade with a metal plate placed over the mower deck’s exit chute. These can be purchased from mower dealers to fit your mower deck. These plates can be cumbersome, because they have to be removed if you want to switch to bagging. It is possible to rig up the plate so it can be lifted when putting a bag on the mower.
The Cyclone Rake acts like a vacuum cleaner. While it may pick up leaves effectively, it removes them from lawns. The idea behind mulch mowing is that the leaves are kept on the lawns and mulched in place so that the lawns and other areas nearby benefit from the additional humus and nutrition provided by the leaves as they decompose. Removing the leaves from lawns is not an efficient way of managing fall leaves.
A Mulching Kit
Manufacturers have these kits for every commercial machine in every size. When installed with shredding blades, they ensure that leaves are mulched finely before dropping to the ground. These can be installed by the landscaper, or by the dealer.
Using a Lawn Sweeper
A lawn sweeper, attached behind a ride along or stand-on mower can be used to get a completely clean look. The sweeper will pick up the mulched leaves that haven’t fallen between grass blades. Those leaves will be contained and can be carted away, to be used as mulch in planting beds, placed in a compost pile or tossed in the woods.
A sweeper is also very handy to clean up the debris that can’t be chopped, like acorns and small twigs, They work well on hard surfaces as well as lawns and are a really good alternative to using a leaf blower for a finished look. All debris will be collected and can be moved for disposal with little effort.
Answers to Your (or Your Clients’) Questions
Will mowing the leaves into the lawn make the lawn look messy?
Most homeowners don’t realize the landscaper is doing anything different after they switch to mulching. The mulch generally cannot be seen on the lawn. Sometimes, if the leaf layer is very thick, you may need to make two passes to mulch all the leaves. Landscaping mowers equipped with mulching fittings reduce the leaves to such tiny fragments that you don’t see them at all. Of course, it is best to tell the client that you are switching to this more sustainable landscaping method, and explain that they may see some leaf residue on the lawn after you leave. This will disappear very quickly, especially if it rains, with the leaf mulch disappearing between the blades of grass. For the homeowner who resists this because he wants a perfectly green and clean lawn when you leave, you should still mulch-mow but attach the bag to the mower and collect the leaf mulch. You can either take it with you, as you would with unmulched leaves, or start a compost pile at the site.
I don’t like the look of leaf mulch on perennial beds.
Some people prefer the look of commercial mulches. In that case, use a leaf mulch about 3″ deep and top it off with a cosmetic layer of commercial mulch. This way you are still using the leaves productively.
The lawn is small but has a very thick layer of leaves.
Rake or blow the leaves into long strips on the driveway, (the strips can be about 2 ft high) and mow over them with your mower, making repeated passes until the leaves are all mulched. The pile will reduce in volume about 10-fold and you can rake or blow the mulch back onto the flower beds or around shrubs.
Won’t the leaf mulch run off when it rains?
In general the leaf mulch stays right where you left it, especially when it rains. It begins to break down immediately and improves the structure of the soil. This is much different from piling whole leaves on the road sides; whole leaves blow easily and often blow right back to where they started, requiring landscapers to clear them repeatedly.
I don’t want to buy new equipment.
You can mulch with regular mower blades — it’s just more efficient with the mulching blades. They are relatively inexpensive and you will easily get your money’s worth back in the first season (if not the first days) because of the time you save.
Does mulching take more time than leaf-blowing?
Absolutely not — because you are hardly moving the leaves from where they fell. Just mowing them straight into the ground. PLUS, when you pile leaves in the road for town pick-up, half the time they blow right back into the yard, and you find yourself blowing the same leaves all over again the following week. It is extremely inefficient use of time to use leaf blowers to move leaves from one end of a yard to another. Mulch mowing the leaves in place deals with them once and for all.
Does leaf compost smell or attract unwanted critters?
I might want to compost some leaves but clients think compost smells. Leaf compost won’t smell — compost can get smelly when lots of food scraps are in it and when the compost pile is not managed well, but leaves alone will not smell.
Does leaf compost create a tick problem?
The amount of ticks in the yard will not change with either approach, but blowing the leaves can make ticks airborne which puts the blowers and others present in the yard at risk. Moving leaves to a contained composting area decreases the spread of the ticks in the yard. That said, no matter what we do in our yard, only daily body checks offer real protection.
What Landscapers Who Mulch Say:
David Duarte, Five Brothers Landscaping
“I’ve been mulching leaves for at least 20 years and the soil you create by doing this is unlike any other. Leaf mulch is more nutritional and safer for your property. Most commercial mulch is the by-product of dead trees – who knows what they died of? Leaf mulch comes directly from your property and does not contain any foreign elements.”
Sean Ryan, Ryan & Ryan Landscaping.
“I started mulching leaves in 2010 and saved $400 a week in overtime, plus more than $1,000 a week in tipping fees. Mulching leaves on site is so much faster and more efficient. And it’s good for the soil.”
Anthony Vulpone, Vulpone Landscaping & Lawn Maintenance.
“I have been mulching leaves for several years. What inspired me was the impact to the environment, the time savings and money savings that results from this method,”
Aesthetic Landscape Care Inc., Tim Downey.
We try to never remove leaves from clients’ properties. I mulch 100% of the leaves on my properties, although 70% is acceptable, if you have tough conditions like steep slopes or rocks. The new equipment for landscapers really has made this possible. You can perform the same autumn cleaning in the same or less time as the regular weekly grass cutting time and that’s it. You never touch those leaves again. Plus it leaves the leaves where they should be – providing nutrition to the soil,”
Dan Delventhal, Mow Green.
“We applaud our customers who have us mulch mow leaves on site and spread the excess into beds and compost areas on their premises. They reduce their town’s burden, make our work easier, and retain a valuable soil input (compost) that can be reused later to save money and maximize soil productivity.”
What Clients Say About Mulching:
“I’ve been mowing leaves into my lawn for three years now and will never rake my leaves again — it saves tons of time and the lawn looks great because the leaf mulch actually feeds the lawn.” David Gabrielson, former Bedford Town Council Member
“I’ve definitely noticed improvement in my lawn since mulching my fall leaves. Mulching improves your soil so the grass grows better. And it’s a great time saver.” Fiona Mitchell, home gardener, Bedford Hills
“Good gardeners know that you need good soil to grow healthy plants. And good soil starts with organic matter. Fall leaves are a great source of organic matter for your lawn as well as for your ornamental and vegetable beds.” Anna Snider, former Horticultural Resource Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Westchester County
“Even though I have a small yard, I get a lot of leaves in the fall. For years now, I have been shredding the leaves and adding them to my perennial beds to amend the soil. They have improved the soil a lot and my plants seem much healthier as a result.” Margi Corsello, home gardener, Katonah.
A note from former Bedford Supervisor and Bedford 2020 board member, Lee Roberts: “I am very supportive of this endeavor, both from an economic and environmental standpoint. The more we can mulch and return leaves to the ground, the better for us and for our lawns. I salute your education campaign and applaud your efforts.”
“We have a small lot with many large trees on or surrounding us and get lots of leaves. I ask our lawn service to mulch in as many leaves as a mower can handle with a couple of passes over a period of 5 to 6 weeks. At the heaviest drop time I do rake and bring some leaves from around shrubs to the curb for Town pickup. Small pieces of leaves sometimes show on the lawn, but this is not a problem and they quickly disappear as they decompose. By the final fall cut there is no evidence of leaves. I think mulching adds to the natural soil nutrients and helps keep the grass healthy. No need to waste the leaves. I don’t use any fertilizer or lawn additives.” Peter Kuniholm, Katonah
“I found a landscaper who would mulch leaves several years ago. The leaves disappear after each mowing in the fall, as well or better than after being blown away. And the quality of my lawn is much improved.” Jeanne Markel, Katonah