The Best Mower Height for Mulching Leaves Explained

Everybody loves having big shade trees in their backyard garden.

However, we may start regretting our choices when the fall comes, and all these beautifully colored leaves end up on the ground.

A lot of people prefer to rake them and discard them somehow. But they can be used for a greater purpose – the leaves can also be mulched or picked up with a lawn mower, using them as compost for your lawn or trees.

However, when I first tried to do this I wasn’t really sure what height setting I should use on my lawn mower. After all, some of the leaf piles can be very intimidating, and I wasn’t sure if my lawn mower can deal with them.

So, what is the best mower height for mulching leaves? The best mower height for mulching leaves is 3 inches. However, the right height can vary from 2 to 4 inches, depending on the height of your grass. If you aren’t sure, using the highest setting on your mower is generally a good practice for mulching leaves.

As you can see, these numbers can vary a little, and I will get into that in a bit as there are some caveats and details that are worth knowing.

So if you are interested in learning more, read on.

How Does Mulching Work?

Let me start by giving you the basics you need to know, then we can continue expanding on top of it.

So what exactly is mulching?

There are two types of mulch; (1) organic and (2) non-organic.

Organic mulch consists of a tiny layer of decaying organic matter, which is spread out on the ground.

For example, this is something that you would see naturally occurring in forests where leaves and branches fall on the ground and create a thick layer on top of it.

Non-organic mulch consists of materials that will not break down and decay with time.

Things like gravel, rubber chips and black plastic can be considered non-organic.

What Is the Purpose of Mulch?

Mulching is an excellent garden practice that a great many people do.

Its purpose is to provide the soil and plants with nutrient-rich bio-degradable material.

The mulch will lower the evaporation rate and keeps the moisture in the soil, and it will keep it from eroding, compacting, and crusting.

The mulch is frequently used to protect plants during the winter by balancing out the soil temperature.

It fertilizes the soil and creates an environment where microorganisms and worms will thrive and grow. Ultimately this will improve the plants’ health as well.

Can You Use Leaves for Mulch?

If you allow the leaves on your lawn to really build up without taking care of them, they will end up suffocating it.

This happens because the thick layer of leaves that builds up over time will prevent any light and air from getting through it and reaching the soil underneath.

This is where mulching comes into play.

Mulching consists of shredding down the leaves into smaller pieces.

The leaves will then act as a natural compost, fertilizer, and soil builder that will provide your lawn and soil with beneficial nutrients.

Mulching your leaves can be an easy and readily accessible way for almost everyone to have a beautiful vibrant looking lawn without having to use chemicals, and best of all, it doesn’t require much time.

Another advantage of using your leaves as mulch is that you don’t have to spend time raking them and collecting them into big piles. This can be extremely time-consuming, while in comparison mulching your leaves with a lawn mower takes very little time.

Weeds are the bane of any gardener.

But did you know you can also prevent weeds from growing naturally? Studies showed that using leaf mulch reduces the number of dandelions that will grow the following year.

Can You Use a Lawn Mower for Mulching Leaves?

Lawn mowers are the go-to tool when it comes to mulching or picking up leaves from your lawn. You need a lawn mower, that is:

  • Self-propelled;
  • High-powered; and
  • Rear-wheel-driven.

Also, there are lawn mowers that come with a specially designed high-lift mulching blade(s) that tend to do a better job at mulching leaves.

But even the regular lawn mowers can do the trick, and a lot of people use them. After all, mowing thick grass can be more demanding compared to shredding dried leaves.

You have two options here:

  • You can use the leaves as mulch on your lawn, in which case you can just go over them with the lawn mower without attaching the grass catcher. Keep in mind that it may not be recommended to use some mowers without a grass catcher. They may not even start. Make sure to double-check that in your user’s manual that came with your lawn mower. After you are ready, you may need to rake up the leaves in order to spread them out more evenly across the lawn.
  • The other option is to use the mulch somewhere else, in which case you can leave the grass catcher on and pick up the leaves with the mower.

Also, before you start, make sure to have all the leaves on your lawn. This may be the only real time-consuming part of the work as you will need to rake or blow the leaves from the driveway and patios.

What is the Ideal Mower Height Setting for Mulching Leaves?

Mulching at the right height is crucial as it will reduce the stress on your lawn mower. And there is a little caveat here that I’d like to explain – we need to consider the height of our grass first.

Different types of grass have different high recommendations, so the right height will depend on what kind of grass you have. For example:

  • Bermuda grass and Zoysiagrass are cut at 1 to 2 inches;
  • Kentucky Bluegrass and Buffalograss are cut at 2 to 3 inches; and
  • Tall Fescue is kept at about 2,5 to 3,5 inches.

Generally speaking, the height of your grass will be roughly between 1 to 3 inches.

Of course, this may not apply to your particular case if, for example, you haven’t mowed your lawn for a while. So take a quick look at how tall the grass is and start by adjusting your lawn mower accordingly. Usually, three inches or just using the highest setting possible should be good enough.

And if you want, you can also mow your lawn by lowering the height of your lawn mower after shredding the leaves.

How Do the Height Settings on Lawn Mowers Work?

Lawn mowers have various height settings.

However, these do not always represent the same height across the different models. And the numbers do not necessarily represent the height in inches, so a setting the height in position one doesn’t necessarily mean one inch.

Make sure to refer to your user’s manual for more information.

If there is not enough detailed information in the user’s guide, you can use a ruler to measure the height from the blade(s) to the ground manually.

Can a Lawn Mower Mulch Thick Leaf Piles?

Say you have your lawn mower set at the highest setting possible, but you are facing a mighty big pile of leaves. What do you need to do in this case? Can the mower do it?

If the leaves are really thick and in big piles, don’t worry. Just raise the lawn mower a little on its back wheels to get the leaves to pass under the blades. Make sure to keep the back of the lawn mower low.

Lawn mowers are super powerful, and even bigger piles of leaves have no chance of standing up against them.

How to Mulch Your Leaves with a Lawn Mower

Mulching leaves is not much different than what you would normally do when mowing your lawn.

Pass through the leaves one or two times and inspect the result. What you want to see is leaves, which are cut and shredded into very tiny dime-sized pieces.

You should end up with about a half of an inch of grass sticking out of the leaf mulch.

Generally speaking, there shouldn’t be more than an inch of leaf mulch. Make sure to rake it and spread it out as evenly as possible if it piles up.

You can also use the lawn mower with an attached grass catcher and go over the mulch to pick up some of it.

If you want to place the mulch around trees, use between 3 to 6 inches of mulch, and for flowers, you can use about 2 to 3 inches of leaf mulch.

I would recommend going once or twice over the same area and in a criss-cross pattern. That way, you will ensure good coverage and proper shredding of all of the leaves.

The last tip is to mulch only dry leaves. Wet leaves can:

  • Clog the mower;
  • Place the mower under a lot of stress; and
  • The mower may not be able to get a good hold of the leaves.

And trying to work on wet ground may be dangerous, as there is an increased risk of slipping and falling.


Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

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