Leaf Mulcher Buying Guide for 2020
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A leaf mulcher can make quick work of seasonal yard cleanup. Here's an overview of how these machines work and how to find the best fit for your lawn.
Now’s the Time to Invest In a Leaf Mulcher
What Is a Leaf Mulcher?
A leaf mulcher is a standalone or handheld device that sucks in leaves and tears them into small pieces. This makes it far easier to move leaves to the trash. It also shreds them finely enough that they can be used as mulch that is left on the lawn or added to a compost bin.
How Does a Leaf Mulcher Work?
Leaf mulchers use blades or strings to thrash leaves into small pieces. Handheld units are often convertible between leaf blowers and vacuums, sending the mulch into a collection bag. Standalone units require you to dump leaves into the top, and leaf mulch is sent out the bottom. From there you can either spread it across the ground, catch it in a collection bag or compost the leaves.
Types of Leaf Mulchers
As mentioned, the two main types of leaf mulchers are handheld and standalone. (For the sake of this article we’re not going to look at lawnmowers with mulching settings or wood chippers that also mulch leaves.)
Most leaf mulchers are powered by electricity, although there are gas-powered models available. Gas-powered standalone mulchers are usually designed to handle chipping small branches, and often straddle the line between a leaf mulcher and a full wood chipper.
Electric standalone mulchers almost always use a power cord, while handheld mulchers are available in corded or cordless varieties.
Leaf Mulcher Features and Uses
In addition to blowing leaves, handheld mulchers are great for removing leaves from flower beds or bushes, where raking might be destructive. Standalone units don’t help with the actual leaf collection — you’ll still have to rake or blow the leaves to them. But once the leaves are gathered, you can’t beat a standalone mulcher for handling large volumes of leaves.
The “compression ratio” of a mulcher refers to the reduction in volume of a load of leaves. For example, if you pour in 10 gallons of leaves and are left with one gallon of mulch, that model’s compression ratio is 10:1.
The benefits of shredding or mulching leaves basically breaks into two categories. First, that compression ratio makes the leaves much easier to fit into small containers, which in turn are much easier to carry down to the curb for collection or wherever else you need to take them. Secondly, shredding the leaves into fine enough particles means they can be left on the lawn as mulch or added to a compost bin.
Which Leaf Mulcher Should I Buy?
The biggest factor in choosing a leaf mulcher is the amount and type of material you’ll be putting through it. If you’re just handling a few gallons of leaves, you can get away with a low cost unit. If you’re handling hundreds of bushels of leaves, sticks and assorted wind-blown trash, go for a heavy-duty mulcher.
Handheld shredders should be comfortable to carry and have a solid enclosure to avoid the risk of leaf particles getting inside. Other than that, they should be viewed as part of an existing leaf blower. A good starting point is the Toro 51619.
Look for light duty standalone shredders with easy-to-change cutting elements and a sturdy base. A good choice for light- to medium-duty mulching is the Worx WG430.
A heavy-duty shredder needs more stability and must draw enough power to get the job done. While it’s not as easy to transport as a light-duty model, you should still be able to move it around your yard. A good choice for more robust mulching is the 15-amp Earthwise GS70015.
How Much Does a Leaf Mulcher Cost?
Prices range from $70 to $150 for light-duty leaf mulchers. Heavy-duty leaf mulchers don’t cost much more than that — usually around $175 to $300. Anything pricier is likely equipped with the power and endurance to be a wood chipper as well as a leaf mulcher. Those more powerful chipper/mulchers can cost $500 and up.
The usual sweet spot is a machine that performs just past your needs, so that you’re not pushing against its limitations. Where that sweet spot falls for you depends largely on how many leaves you deal with each year. For most DIYers, $150 is a reasonable starting range.
Leaf Mulcher Safety and Maintenance
It should go without saying, but the most important safety practice is to simply not stick your hand into the mulcher while it’s running. Sooner or later, every leaf shredder will clog up. When that happens, disconnect the power before clearing the clog.
Beyond that, keep in mind that the mulcher will kick up a fair about of dust and debris during operation. Catching leaf debris in your eye probably won’t send you to the hospital, but it’s still extremely uncomfortable. Avoid that headache by wearing eye protection and a mask. Depending on the mulcher’s volume, it may also be advisable to slip in ear plugs for hearing protection. (Generally speaking, gas-powered leaf mulchers are louder than electric models.)
Maintenance for a leaf mulcher mostly consists of wiping away leaf dust and changing out the trimmer strings as needed. Gas-powered units will also require a tune-up once a year or so.