Repurpose Fallen Leaves with the 8 Best Leaf Mulchers

·10 min read
Photo credit: Popular Mechanics; Courtesy WORX
Photo credit: Popular Mechanics; Courtesy WORX


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In many places, fall transforms the landscape into a patchwork of beautiful foliage. It also brings a constant battle to keep your lawn clear of fallen leaves. You can certainly rake and bag them, but there’s a better way to utilize dead leaves—and divert some waste from a landfill. Invest in a leaf mulcher that will chew up organic lawn debris so you can add it to your compost pile or garden, turning something previously useless into free fertilizer.

Best Leaf Mulchers

The Expert: I’ve been involved with construction, maintenance, and home renovation for more than 30 years. I co-owned a maintenance and construction business for nearly 20 years, and my family and I are hardcore DIYers. I live in a rural mountain region of Pennsylvania, and in that area, a large yard means a lot of yard work, especially in the fall when the entire region seems to be covered in leaves. Over the years, I’ve used a wide variety of leaf mulchers and other leaf removal equipment.

How Leaf Mulchers and Other Leaf Removal Tools Work

Leaf mulchers and other outdoor power tools with mulching capabilities all work in a similar manner: Leaves (and other debris) enter the machine, then an impeller or blade shreds them. Because manufacturers often prioritize multifunctionality when it comes to leaf removal, don’t be surprised if you end up investing in a leaf blower, leaf vacuum, wood chipper, a lawn mower, or a combination thereof for your mulching needs. You can also find dedicated leaf mulchers.

Most leaf mulchers, vacuums, and blowers set to vacuum mode typically have semi-blunt blades that work best on smaller and softer organic material. Walk-behind mulchers and wood chippers are more powerful machines, often outfitted with sharp metal blades, that can handle heartier yard waste. Mulching lawn mowers have a specific mode and purpose-built blades to clip grass and leaves more thoroughly than a standard cut. Depending on your needs, each machine can be an effective way to remove, dispose of, or even reuse dead leaves.

Types of Leaf Mulchers

Handheld: These are best suited for smaller jobs, like cleaning out between bushes, but be wary of larger items like sticks or acorns, which can easily clog the system. Handheld leaf mulchers can run off of gas or electricity (via a cord or battery). The collection bag gets heavier as you suck up leaves, so you’ll have to empty it often, which could be an annoyance if you’re attempting to clear a large area.

Walk-behind: Walk-behind leaf mulchers suck up debris as you push them along your lawn. They sometimes also have a hose to reach in smaller areas but are generally suited to larger open swaths of property. Be sure to find a model with an engine big enough to pull in and shred the material in its path.

Stationary: These machines work similar to wood chippers but are slightly less powerful and get their power from an electrical cord or gasoline. They can mulch some smaller branches, but if you want to chop up larger pieces of wood, opt for a Power Take Off (PTO) model, which is powered by a tractor. Most stationary mulchers have a large chute for leaves and a small chute for branches. These work with any size yard, depending on how patient you are with feeding debris into them. Keep in mind you will need to enlist other tools to help with the leaf-gathering process before you can use a stationary mulcher.

Tow-behind: Consider a leaf mulcher of this type if you already own a lawn tractor or riding lawn mower. They attach underneath or on the back of your vehicle and gather leaves as you ride along. Tow-behind leaf mulchers are ideal for large areas with a lot of leaves as they can carry big loads, and you don’t have to do anything but steer.

When selecting a type of mulcher, consider the size of the space you need to cover and the type and volume of leaves or other debris you want to mulch. With a large area, a handheld model could get tiring to use and requires frequent emptying, so a walk-behind or tow-behind model might make more sense. If you have a lot of leaves and/or some sticks or heavier debris, choose a more powerful machine that can handle those demands.

How We Evaluated Leaf Mulchers

In evaluating a variety of leaf mulchers, I drew upon my experience using and testing these tools. I also consulted manufacturer listings for relevant specs related to weight, motor type and size, and special features. Finally, I factored in the input from thousands of reviewers on Amazon, Walmart, and other retail sites. After taking all of that information into consideration, I recommend these eight models as the best leaf mulchers available now.

Budget Stationary Leaf Mulcher

WORX 13-AMP ELECTRIC LEAF MULCHER

If you’re looking for an affordable way to clean up your lawn this fall, this Worx leaf mulcher is a great pick. Coming in at under $200, it won’t break the bank, and it works way above its price range, mulching up to 53 gallons of leaves per minute. It has an 11:1 chop ratio and weighs only 20 pounds, which makes it easy to lift and store but just heavy enough to stand sturdily on its own. Customers were impressed with its mulching abilities and claimed that it could easily handle the remains of their garden, plus some small sticks.

Mid-Range Stationary Leaf Mulcher

LANDWORKS HEAVY-DUTY ELECTRIC LEAF SHREDDER AND MULCHER

This mulcher can shred leaves and limbs up to ½-inch in diameter and its 3-blade configuration makes quick work of debris. The waste bag has a 50-gallon capacity, and because the mulcher can reduce 13 bags of leaves into one, that means you can clear a lot of space before you need to empty the bag. Some users felt the legs should be longer.

Premium Stationary Machine

DR POWER PREMIER 300

This mulching wood chipper from DR Power packs a real punch. The Premier 300 easily takes on leaves, branches up to 3 inches thick, weeds, and even pine cones, breaking them down into a perfectly compostable mulch. Although it’s a stationary model, it has handles that facilitate relocating—it does however weigh 126 pounds, so it can be quite cumbersome. Reviewers were pleased with the shredding and chipping abilities, but they did note that you should be careful not to put too much in at once as it could get clogged relatively easily.

Premium Walk-Behind Model

BILLY GOAT KV MULTISURFACE RESIDENTIAL / LIGHT COMMERCIAL LEAF AND LITTER VACUUM

This Billy Goat walk-behind is by no means a budget buy. But if you’re looking for a lawn vac that can handle just about anything your yard could throw at it, it’s worth the price. Powered by a 190-cc Briggs & Stratton engine, this model features impressive suction that will clean up everything on your grass but the actual grass. Designed to take on leaves, acorns, and sticks that could be littering your yard, it doesn’t clog easily, and the 6:1 mulching ratio—as well as 40-gallon bag—allows you to cover large areas without stopping to unload. It can, however, be a bit difficult to handle. This self-propelled leaf vacuum weighs 133 pounds and, when in motion, surges forward with significant force, which can be difficult for some people to steer and control.

Corded Handheld Model

WORX TRIVAC 2 WITH MULTISTAGE ALL-METAL MULCHING SYSTEM

Although marketed as a leaf blower, the TriVac 2 comes with an impressive vacuum and mulcher function. And unlike many leaf blowers, which require a bit of disassembly to go from blower to mulcher and back again, Worx allows you to change between the two modes easily with the flick of a switch. It’s small enough to fit under porches and in tight spaces. Plus it’s powerful for its size, with an 18:1 mulch ratio and up to 210 mph air speed in a 9.3-pound package. Bonus: the quick-release tube, which makes dumping the bushel collection bag a breeze.

Cordless Handheld Model

GREENWORKS 40-VOLT BRUSHLESS LEAF BLOWER/VACUUM

Measuring only 32 inches long, this leaf vacuum is ideal for getting in the tough-to-reach cracks and crevices. It can run for up to 21 minutes on a single charge—which isn’t a lot but should be enough to clean up a walkway or small garden. It also functions as a leaf blower, which makes it a great two-in-one tool. Customers praised its power, noting that it had plenty of suction even on the low setting, and its mulching power which allows you to fill up to 4.5 bags of debris on a single charge. Greenworks also backs it up with a four-year tool and two-year battery warranty, which is great, particularly for a tool under $350.

Tow-Behind Model

DR POWER PREMIER 240

An attachable leaf mulcher is really the way to go if you already own a riding lawn mower or lawn tractor, particularly if you have a large piece of land. This mulcher can hold up to 200 gallons of leaves and is easy to unload as you simply unbuckle the closures on the back and release the lock lever from the front while tilting the collector in the rear. The shredder is mainly suited for leaves but can handle some smaller sticks as well, leaving your property clean and clear. You can also remove the collector and use the trailer to haul things around your property. Note that it does take a vehicle with at least a 12-horsepower engine to pull it on level ground, or 14 horsepower if there’s any sort of grade.

Highly Portable

BLACK AND DECKER 3-IN-1 VACPACK ELECTRIC LEAF BLOWER, VACUUM, AND MULCHER

The Black and Decker VacPack is great for people who love tools that multitask, as it does triple-duty as a leaf blower, vacuum, and mulcher. It’s a wearable backpack style, which is convenient and leaves your hands free to control the vacuum chute. Although some reviewers complained about leaves falling out of the bag, other users suggested that might be due to not following the directions explaining how to securely close the bag.

Expert Bobbi Dempsey on the Best Time to Mulch Leaves

PM: When is the best time or what are the best conditions to mulch?
B.D.:
Dry, crunchy leaves are easiest to mulch and less likely to clog the mulcher than wet, heavy leaves. It makes sense to mulch leaves when you mow the lawn, since you can do both at the same time, especially if you are using a mulcher that’s attached to your mower. Mulched leaves are rich in nutrients that are good for your lawn, so leaving them coated on freshly cut grass can be a great chemical-free way to nourish your lawn.

PM: What’s your preferred type of leaf mulcher?
B.D.: Since I own a tractor and have a lot of ground to clear, a tow-behind model offers a convenient way to cover the largest area in the shortest amount of time. But they tend to be expensive and require more storage space. For quick jobs or smaller spaces, I like gas-powered handheld models.

PM: In your experience, what feature can make or break a leaf mulcher?
B.D.: While the most important features will depend somewhat on the type of machine you select and the size of the area you’re clearing, in general, you want a machine that has sufficient power to run for an adequate amount of time, without requiring frequent clearing or adjustments. For a handheld model, weight and bag capacity will be important considerations.

Editors’ Note: Senior Test Editor Roy Berendsohn and Editor Gabrielle Hondorp contributed to this article.

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