What Is Leaf Mulch?

Leaf mulch is a type of organic material used to prevent soil erosion and improve soil structure. Leaf mulches are made from shredded leaves, twigs, grass clippings, bark strips, straw bales and other materials such as plastic bags. They may be placed directly over the ground or they may be stacked in piles (or “mulched”) around the garden area.

How To Use Leaf Mulch For Garden Erosion Prevention?

Leaf mulch helps prevent soil erosion because it acts like a sponge, soaking up water and holding it until it evaporates off the surface of the soil. When leaves are cut down, they release their moisture into the air where it can easily be lost through evaporation. This loss of moisture causes soil to become soggy and eventually becomes too wet for plants to survive.

When leaves are mulched with other materials, they act as a barrier between the soil and the sun’s rays. This prevents heat from escaping into the soil and increases the amount of time plants have to stay cool during hot weather. This effect is especially beneficial when combined with shade cloth or tall grasses.

In addition to preventing soil erosion, leaf mulch can also reduce weed growth. This is because the organic matter in leaf mulch partially breaks down and forms a dense mat over the soil, creating a barrier between the soil and the sun. This prevents weed seeds from sprouting and growing.

Leaf mulch also helps conserve water. The combination of the thick layer of organic matter on top of the soil and the partial barrier it creates between the soil and sun both help to prevent water from evaporating out of the soil. This means that you can water your plants less often, and still have them stay healthy.

What Are The Different Kinds Of Leaf…

There are a few different types of leaf mulch that can used to improve soil quality and prevent plant diseases. The type of leaf you choose will depend on the factors such as how much you need, how it will be used, and what you can get for free in your area.

Green Leaves

Green leaves are made from freshly fallen leaves that have not yet changed color. They can be used in areas that need erosion control or over poor soil. They should not be used where a thick layer is needed or over good soil, because they will break down very quickly and do little to nothing in the way of improving the soil quality.

Green leaves should only be combined with other types of mulch if you plan on applying a thick layer. This is because green leaves alone will break down quickly and not provide much improvement to the soil after just a few months.

To use green leaves as a top layer, chop or tear them into smaller pieces before spreading them over the soil you want to cover. To use them as an under layer, chop or tear them into strips and lay them directly on the soil you want to protect.

Brown Leaves

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Brown leaves are made from fallen leaves that have changed color but have not yet started to decay. They will work as an under layer in areas with both good and poor soil. They will not, however, prevent erosion over bare soil.

Brown leaves should only be combined with other types of mulch if you plan on applying a thick layer. Like green leaves, brown leaves alone will break down quickly and not provide much improvement to the soil after just a few months.

To use brown leaves as an under layer, chop or tear them into strips and lay them directly on the soil you want to protect.

Pine Needles

Pine needles are especially good at preventing weeds from growing. They also help conserve water, making them an ideal mulch for xeriscape gardens. To use pine needles as a mulch, simply spread them over your soil or soil amended with compost or other organic materials.

Pine needles will not prevent soil from washing away as effectively as other types of mulch, so they are not the best choice for areas that are prone to erosion.

Pine sawdust can also be used as a substitute for pine needles. It has most of the same benefits without the sharp edges that can damage the roots of plants.

Sawdust

Using sawdust as a soil amendment has many of the same benefits as using leaves or pine needles. It is not quite as good at preventing weeds from growing, but it does prevent water evaporation and soil erosion quite well. It is also beneficial to prevent your soil from becoming too acidic.

Coffee Grounds

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Not only are used coffee grounds good for composting, but they can also be used as mulch. They can prevent weeds from growing and prevent soil from washing away during heavy rains, making them a good mulch for erosion control.

After using coffee grounds in your garden, you will need to replace them more often than you would with other types of mulches. Be sure to always use organic, non-gmo coffee. Synthetic fertilizer washes off of synthetic mulches like plastic, but organic fertilizer washes off of organic mulches like coffee.

Coffee grounds can be used as an under layer or a top layer, but they are best when used as a top layer so that the nutrients they provide do not wash away.

Straw

Straw is another mulch that can be used as a top layer or an under layer. It lasts longer than leaves, but not as long as shredded bark. It does not do as good of a job at preventing weeds from sprouting as most other types of mulches, but it is easy to get and use. If you grow your own vegetables, wheat or oats make great mulch.

Shredded Bark

Shredded bark is a very popular mulch. It lasts longer than straw and most other types of mulch. It prevents most weed from growing as long as the soil is not tilled after applying it. It does not, however, prevent water from evaporating and can allow soil to wash away if not used in conjunction with another type of mulch.

Wood Chips

Wood chips are also a good choice for a mulch. They are beneficial to use as a top layer and can also be used as an under layer for other types of mulches. They can prevent most weeds from growing and help prevent water from evaporating. Like shredded bark, they do not prevent soil from washing away unless used in combination with another type of mulch.

Hay

Hay is another organic material that can be used as a mulch. It is beneficial to use as a top layer and does suppress the growth of most weeds. It does not, however, prevent water from evaporating like most other types of mulches. Hay can also potentially attract animals, so it is not the best choice for gardens that are visible throughout the day.

Leaves

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As with most organic mulches, leaves should only be used as a top layer. They break down relatively quickly in garden beds and can allow weeds to grow. They do not, however suppress the growth of weeds as well as some other types of mulch.

Weed Barriers

Weed barriers are used to prevent the growth of weeds in a specific area. They can be made from many materials. Some of the most common are plastic, cloth and paper. While not technically mulch, they do share some similarities.

The primary way to use a weed barrier is to lay it on the ground on top of the area you want to block and then put the mulch or gravel on top of that. The mulch or gravel is then placed over the entire area. As the mulch breaks down it will fall through the weed barrier onto the soil below. This helps to prevent weeds from growing through the barrier. The barrier should be at least as wide as the area needing to be covered to prevent people and animals from trampling it and causing the weeds underneath it to grow.

Weed barriers are relatively inexpensive and are a good way to prevent weeds in hard to mulch areas. They can be reused from year to year if carefully stored and in good condition.

So which mulch is best?

That depends on what you are trying to accomplish. In my experience, shredded bark seems to be the best all around mulch. It lasts a long time, prevents weeds from growing and helps prevent water from evaporating. If you are looking to save money, straw is a good choice. It breaks down relatively quickly and does not suppress the growth of weeds other than small seeds. The disadvantage is that it can get quite messy and dusty.

As I said at the beginning, mulch is a personal choice. Just remember that whatever you choose it needs to be something that you want to look at for a long time.

Happy Gardening!

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Sources & references used in this article:

Production, leaf quality and antioxidants of perennial wall rocket as affected by crop cycle and mulching type by G Caruso, V Stoleru, S De Pascale, E Cozzolino… – Agronomy, 2019 – mdpi.com

Effect of polyethylene mulch on soil nutrient level and root, leaf and fruiting characteristics of mango (Mangifera indica). by VK Singh, S Gorakh, SR Bhriguvanshi – Indian Journal of …, 2009 – cabdirect.org

Effects of different irrigation regimes and mulches on yield and macronutrition levels of drip-irrigated cucumber under open field conditions by H Kirnak, MN Demirtas – Journal of plant nutrition, 2006 – Taylor & Francis

Ecological restoration of compacted soil following the application of different leaf litter mulches on the skid trail over a five-year period by M Jourgholami, A Nasirian, ER Labelle – Sustainability, 2018 – mdpi.com

Effect of different organic mulches on pH, organic carbon content and microbial status of soil and its influence on leaf yield of M5 mulberry (Morus indica L.) under … by KR Shashidhar, RN Bhaskar, P Priyadharshini… – Current …, 2008 – cabdirect.org

Effectiveness of tree leaf mulch comparing with conventional mulches on common bean at different irrigation levels: growth, yield, water use efficiency and weed … by MA Rahman, H Yahata, MG Miah… – Archives of Agronomy …, 2008 – Taylor & Francis

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