For A More Professional Approach...
How the Professionals Mulch
As landscapers, with professional grade equipment you are in a great position to save time and money by switichng 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.
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.
There are several options for professional landscaper equipment.
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 can cost under $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 grass blades and leaves are smaller than a dime in size before dropping to the ground. Dry leaves are quickly and easily pulverized by the Vulcher, although it also works with wet leaves.
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.
Mulching blades (the black blade in the photo above) 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. (See the red blade in the photo.) They're more efficient than regular mulching blades and will also cut your grass perfectly well. Here is a good source for these blades.
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. Here is a landscaper, Anthony Vulpone, demonstrating how he does this.
These plates can be cumbersome, because they have to be removed if you want to switch to bagging. A local landscaper, Anthony Vulpone, rigged his up so that it can be lifted when he wants to put a bag on his mower. (Antony's tip for an ultra clean finished look is to replace his bag for a final pass where leaf mulchig has left some debris.) A local vendor familiar with these plates in Louis at Argento & Sons in White Plains, (914) 949-1152.
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 blade blocker attachment for walk-behind mowers that allows the operator to easily lift and close the deck chute. This is used together with mulching blades, like the Gator. (Landscapers tell us this is not as efficient as a deck chute plate or the Vulcher as leaves do escape through the trimmer trap. It is not designed for leaf mulching and other methods described on this page are preferred.)
Available at Bedford Mowers: 385 Adams St., Bedford Hills, NY 10507. (914) 241-2040. firstname.lastname@example.org
Answers to Your (or Your Clients') Questions
My clients think mowing the leaves into the lawn will 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.
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.
What do you do when there isn't much lawn but you still have loads of leaves to clear? 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. The pile will reduce in volume about 10-fold and you can 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.
I don't want to buy new equipment. You can mulch with regular mower blades - it's just much 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 day) because of the time you save.
Doesn't this take more time than removing the leaves? 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.
I might want to compost some leaves but clients think compost smells. Refer them to some literature (see our Useful Links at the left of the Who We Are page), and see if you can persuade them to try it for one year. They'll quickly realize the advantage of composting and that it doesn't smell or attract critters.
What Landscapers Who Mulch Say:
"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." David Duarte, Five Brothers 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." Sean Ryan, Ryan & Ryan Landscaping.
"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," Anthony Vulpone, Vulpone Landscaping & Lawn Maintenance.
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," Aesthetic Landscape Care Inc., Tim Downey.
Print out leaf mulching tips
One page leaf-mulching tips in Spanish
One page leaf-mulching tips in English
Vulcher 2 Vendors in Westchester County
*Ossining Lawn Mower (speak to Vinnie or Peter) (914) 502-4545
31 Campwoods Rd.
Ossining, NY 10562
*Mill River Supply, 365 Adams St., Bedford Hills, NY 10507; 914 666-5774
* Michael Debartolo
Westchester Landscape Depot www.westchesterlandscapedepot.com
What Homeowners 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: they are totally in concert with our Bedford 2020 objectives."
From Bedford 2020:
"Leave Leaves Alone is an important step toward fulfilling Bedford's Climate Action Plan. The Bedford 2020 Coalition applauds this effort to improve the health of our local soil and reduce the noise and gas pollution associated with carting leaves away each year. Initiatives like this will help achieve our goal of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020."
"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 someitmes 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