I absolutely adore trees and I’ve said on more than one occasion in articles on this site that fall is my favorite time of year. But this period does bring about its own unique variables in terms of yard care – namely a pile of leaves sitting on your lawn. Now you can collect all of these up with a leaf blower, vac or a good old-fashioned rake, but it’s a shame for your lawn to miss out on all the “nutritional value” (am I humanizing my lawn?!) that can be gained through mulching leaves instead. Many people avoid it, as they’re not too sure if a) they should mulch, and b) what’s the best mower height for mulching leaves?
The first answer is simple: YES! The second might require slightly more explanation. The best mower height for mulching leaves is usually somewhere around 2.5 – 3 inches. You don’t want the deck too low, but you don’t want it too high either. There are a few factors that can affect which end of this range you should be on.
The Best Mower Height for Mulching Leaves
There are numerous ways to mulch leaves without a lawn mower if you don’t have one, but if you are going to mulch leaves with a mower, the most important thing to get right is the height you set the cutting deck at. Well, you kind of need to have a mower capable of mulching and a mulching blade installed too, but I’m sort of assuming you do…
As I mentioned a second ago, generally speaking, 2.5 – 3 inches is the best mower height for mulching leaves, for a couple of reasons.
- Avoids Overworking the Engine/Motor – If your yard is absolutely piled up with leaves and you set the mower deck pretty low, you’re going to run into problems if your mower doesn’t have a very powerful engine/motor. This is because you’re asking your mower to process an awful lot of leaves in a very short amount of time, and setting the mower cutting height low makes this scenario even more challenging since it is compacting the leaves too. Raising the cutting height to 2.5-3 inches gives the blade a bit more room to work in.
- Don’t Want to Cut Lawn Too Short as Winter Approaches – This one becomes more important as you get to the end of fall and winter is approaching. As you may or may not know, cutting your grass extremely short before the winter can be extremely damaging to a lawn. What you have to realize when setting your mower height for mulching leaves, is that you’re going to be cutting your grass too. So by setting your mower height at 2.5 – 3 inches, you’re not only providing your mower with enough space to deal with the leaves, you’re also ensuring that the grass won’t be cut too short either.
Factors Affecting Optimum Mower Height for Mulching Leaves
As with many things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of the “correct mower height for cutting leaves” that will work in absolutely every single situation. Life throws lots of different variables our way, and I’m going to run through a few that can affect how high you should set the deck.
The Amount of Leaves You’re Mulching
Obviously, it’s not the same if your lawn has a light smattering of leaves as it is if it’s jam-packed with them. It’s much easier going when there are only a few. The more leaves there are, the more work your mower has to do.
For that reason, I’d recommend setting the mower height at 2.5 inches if there are only a few leaves, 2.75 inches if there is a moderate amount and 3 inches if the lawn is completely covered.
My Tip: If you plan to mulch your leaves this fall, I’d recommend that you follow a simple but effective philosophy: little and often. Don’t wait until all of the leaves have fallen off your trees. Mulching that many at once will be hell. Plus, when leaves are mulched gradually, on an ongoing basis, your lawn gets the most benefit. If you mulch the leaves once per week, for example, the mulch is given time to decompose and provide nutrients to the lawn on a regular basis.
Are the Leaves Wet or Dry?
Like when cutting grass, it can make a big difference whether the leaves that you’re attempting to mulch are wet or dry. Mulching wet leaves is much harder going and is more demanding on your mower as the leaves won’t break down anywhere near as effectively. A leaf that is completely dry disintegrates completely when a little pressure is applied to it. That’s not the case with a wet leaf. Not by a long shot.
For that reason, I’d always set the deck a little higher if I was attempting to mulch in damp conditions than I would in dry conditions.
My Tip: Avoid mulching wet leaves like the plague! I mean it. It’s a genuinely horrible experience. I know some people have no option due to the local climate, but honestly, if there’s even a slight chance that you’ll get a dry spell, try to hold out.