Leaf Shredding without a shredder, is it possible?

weenerdogg(Zone 7b)March 4, 2008

I have a ton of fall leaves and was hoping to shred them up for compost but I don't have a shredder, nor do I wish to buy one. Is there something else I can use or buy that I don't have to plug up? Thanks for the help!

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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I shred most of my leaves with a lawn mower. I have a shredder and I still find it easier to shred most leaves with the mower.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 3:39PM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

I had an electric leaf shredder, but I burned it out after about four years and started using the lawnmower last fall. The lawnmower seems easier than the shredder, though still a bit time-consuming. The shredder didn't like sticks so it didn't really work at all on leaves I raked up in the spring, which were alwasys full of other junk. A real chipper/shredder wouldn't mind sticks.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 4:42PM
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I don't shred any leaves, just put them in the composter, off course they will break down faster if smaller and that's why I have a catcher on my mower. I also blend my kitchen scrapes and pour that over the pile because egg shells don't break down too fast.

Here is a link that might be useful: Propagating Perennials

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 5:53PM
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I rake my leaves into a long line about 2 feet wide all along my driveway. After running over them 9 or 10 times going in and out, they are pretty much shredded and I just rake them up. Works very well! Good luck. Wobur

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 6:01PM
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Somebody mentioned a string trimmer thingy in a garbage can. Seem to recall they burnt out the motor so this may be a small batch system. And I think no twigs as well.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 6:07PM
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I had one of those flowtron shredders and the first one I had I kept and used for almost 8 years, the first four years I used it almost exclusively, but when people started giving them to me, I'd always try em out and as long as you feed it at a steady pace and hand pick out any sticks over 1/8th of an inch thick, it works fine for composting home leaves. To prove a point to my neighbors, I collected about 250 bol (all of my neighbors leaves, to be precise) and shredded em down to 25 bags'o'leaves (the first benefit of shredding leaves- VOLUME VOLUME VOLUME reduction) and they composted down fast! (the only other reason in my mind to shred em and forget em).
The thing to keep in mind (iyam) is that you are using gas/electric and your own power to shred em. And... it's loud and dusty and kind of a gimmick-leaf shreding that is.
On the other hand-if you just have a large mass'o'stuff (10x10x15ish) keep it wet, the heat and such will break the leaves/straw/wood chips/cow pies/ horse cookies/cardboard'n'paper'n'food waste down fine. So in a way leaf shredding without shredder is possible, it just takes mass and time.
The mass of a large static pile just seems to break down organic matter faster then a lil home static pile (hence shredding the leaves has another purpose, more stuff in a smaller area)

To stop a pile,let it dry out.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 8:58PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I mow mine into a 3 foot swath and back the riding mower over them...works much better backwards. Course if your leaves are very wet, they are harder to mow up.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 9:35PM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

I use a Toro leaf blower/vacuum. It shreds @ 10:1 ratio and only costs about $50 I think.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 9:57PM
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buffburd(z5 NY)

Here's a radical idea, pile them up in a corner for two years then sift them through half-inch hardware cloth. It makes the most beautiful fine mulch you'll ever see.

Its green, its simple, its quiet, its free, and there's no maintenance.

What's that you say, you don't want to wait two years every time you need some leaf mold? Build a pile this year, build a pile next year and the following year harvest the oldest pile. "Fresh" leaf mold is now yours for the taking every year, since you build a new pile each year thereafter.

And that's just if you wanted to use them for mulch or general soil improvement. There's no need to shred them for making compost, just mix with your other ingredients and add time.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 10:08PM
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Place leaves in trash can- run weed eater in trash can with leaves. Shred away.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 4:26AM
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I'm with Kyle. I do shred some leaves for the compost, but my favorite thing to do with leaves is to make my most favorite garden amendment in the whole wide world---leaf mold. I gather all the leaves I can get my hands on, put them out of sight, and then I wait. Lucky me, I started doing this four years ago and I'm going to be golden from here on out.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 9:23AM
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madmagic(dtown Toronto)

Annpat has so much beautiful leaf mold stored up, this spring she'll drive up to Toronto with a heaping truckload! Hauling a big trailer of fresh seaweed and composted chicken manure!

All the best,
(one must have faith to be a gardener)

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 9:41AM
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No, she doesn't. No, she won't. In your dreams.

Faith and a vivid imagination.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 10:18AM
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That sounded a little rude. What I meant to say was:

Yes, sweetpea, open the gate. I'm shoveling the manure on right now (in the snow) and I'm off to the seashore next. Don't bother to cook anything for me. I'm bringing lobster. And a keg.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 10:25AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I used to have large leaf piles. After 1 year there was almost no decay...many were still dry! So it can take a while.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 12:39PM
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madmagic(dtown Toronto)

Lobster! And a keg!

All the best,
looking forward

p.s. Might be wiser to get the cheap Canadian beer as you cross the border, Ann dear.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 12:51PM
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curtludwig(New England)

Hmm, I don't rake or shred my leaves. Well I do rake but just a little...
Anyway I run the lawnmower back and forth over the lawn to windrow the leaves toward the composter. A semi-circular pattern seems to work the easiest. Sometimes the pile gets too big so I'll run the mower over just the leading edge and then rake that bit into the pile, then back to the rest. Eventually the leaves all get shredded way down and are right next to the pile so I just rake 'em in.

Year before last I didn't shred and the first couple times I turned the compost in the spring it was pretty obvious since the leaves were pretty whole. Last year I could see significant decomposition when I turned in early December before early snow but the pile to bed.
It'll be interesting to see whats what now. Heavy snow has kept me out of the pile but its been warm this week and the snow is melting fast...

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 3:02PM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

What about piling the leaves high and asking neighbour kids to come and jump in them? We have oak leaves and they are a little waxy and don't break down unless they are shredded. Maple leaves on the other hand lie there in a wet mass and kill the weeds trying to grow under them. I have mountains of leaves right now.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 3:58PM
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Last year my shredder engine blew, so I had to use my mower. It is quite a bit slower, but works.

First I dump the neighbors bags of leaves in a pile, then I put the mulch plug in, and run over them until they are very fine.
Then I put the bag on, take the plug out, and collect the leaves.

It helps if you have a larger engine -- my 6.75hp Sears works much better than my 4.5 hp Sears did. You should also change the air filter and oil much more frequently.


    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 5:14PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

A large riding mower running backwards is SUPER fast.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 6:14PM
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Can leaves be shredded with something else besides a shredder? Yes it can but it's way inferior to using a good shredder! I'll put my Troy Built 10 horse chipper shredder against any weekend warrior mower that attempts at doing the job. It's like useing a butter knife to do a screwdrivers job. You use superior equipment and you will get a superior product 10 times fast. Before some may get thier panties in a bunch, yes I've tried the above ideas and I'll never go back to such tactics. I have a small yard but with a product like my Troy Built, I now have a way thats faster and a better way of shredding, so now I'll bring home leaves that people set by the curb for the city to haul off. Thier loss is a big gain for me and my composting goal!!!!!!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 9:59PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

The advantage of using a mower over a shredder is that you don't have to rake and lift the leaves to get them into the hopper.... you just walk around...no bending and lifting...

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 1:38AM
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If you have a rotary mower that can be used to shred leaves, but you need some means of catching them so they fly all over and the bag that often comes with that mower to catch grass clippings (something that should not be used for that purpose) is too small to be of much use. But that rotary mower will do a fine job shredding your leaves.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 7:37AM
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I'll agree with Vicsitter about the Troy-bilt. My 15 year old 4? hp with the hammers instead of knives does great. Not all chipper/shredders are the same. I used a Sears 5 hp at the same time, and it did not shred anywhere nears as fine as the Troy-bilt.

I think I would have to spend about $900 to 1100 to get a new shredder as good as my Troy-bilt.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 1:15PM
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I guess your right joepyeweed. I was never raised lazy though, so it dosen't seem to me that picking up a rake full of leaves is that big of deal! From what I've seen in the last few years it wouldn't hurt a few people to do a little work, and maybe loose a few pounds around the middle anyway! I know it's hard to believe but I even have heard of a few people so lazy that they hire people to do their yard work then act like they done it when their friends are around. Thats one thing with the way people are raised today, their parents never give them the chance to do a day's hard work or get their hands dirty.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 5:29PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I do consider myself a lazy gardener and composter. And I could stand to loose a lot of weight off my backside. But even so, If I quit my job, there still wouldn't be enough time between thanksgiving and christmas to run all of our leaves through a shredder. Usually I am running the mower, while my hubs is running the shredder.

And we still give the local church youth group a donation to come and haul a few more truck loads of leaves away to city mulch facility. A group of teenagers descend upon the yard with rakes and remove several huge tarps full of leaves.

I have a small yard with twelve+ mature oak trees, 80'+ tall, plus a couple hickories, plus an adjacent oak woodland of several hundred acres. It would be physically impossible to use a shredder to process all the leaves that fall on my property.. I would estimate that we process about 20% of the leaves with the shredder, makes great mulch. I would guess about 50% of our leaves are mulched back into lawn with the mower. The rest of the leaves are mulched with mower and then bagged with the mower. I still have to remove the bag and shake it over the landscape beds....or dump 'em into the compost pile, or stack 'em up in the leaf mold pile. The bag fills up pretty quick too.

If we procrastinate and don't get ahead of the leaves, they will stack up waist high from our front window and then formed a huge leaf slope back towards the street. Its kind of fun tunneling through the huge piles...

Most of our neighbors do hire a lawn service...they are elderly and retired and I wouldn't expect them to process all their own leaves.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 6:05PM
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I won't buy a shredder in part because of the cost, but mostly so I don't have to store it. I use my push mower to shred a portion of my leaves and I pile the rest to rot naturally.

Anyone who wants to use their lawn mower must take heed: there WILL eventually be a piece of hard debris in one of those bags which will, at the very least, scare the pants off of you. You would not believe how much noise a wire coat hanger will make when it gets wrapped around the spinning blade. You might not believe it, but a 6 inch long section of 3/4 inch diam copper pipe is a bit difficult to detect visually when spreading leave to mow. I spread my leaves by shuffling my feet through them. It gets my shoes full of prickly bits, but I can usually detect any hard objects that bump into my shoes.

I will attest to the fact that my mower does much better at not getting bogged down when pulling it backwards through really thick portions of leaves. That is dangerous in that if you stumble and fall backwards, the tendency is to hang on to the lawn mower handle to slow your fall. This only leads you to pull the mower up onto your foot. Bad news there. Be careful. And if you shred with the mower, blow out the air filter each time. It gets clogged quick. Consider wearing a respirator yourself.

Shredding is really for those who are new to gardening and do not have the patience to wait for compost to happen (I am an example of this). The volume reduction caused by shredding will happen on its own with a bit of water combined with gravity and time. I agree with those who say to get a new pile going each year. Once a few years pass, as each new pile is built, an old pile will get harvested. I know that's quite a luxury for most, but it is by far the quietest, least dusty method.

I use shredding as part of my lawn care in addition to making compost. I bring home OPL during December and spread them all over my sunny yard and mow them in thick. I have only done this two years now, but I think it did wonders during last years dry spell.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 6:06PM
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I'm not sure how fast the smaller shredders run but with the one I have it's a 10 horse and it will shred and blow the debri right into my bins as fast as you can feed it. For this one the cost is not bad at all. I picked this one up for around 950.00. One of the other nice features this shredder has is that it has a tow bar so I can pull it with my atv instead of pulling it. Storage is nothing. Throw a piece of plastic over it and thats all thats needed to keep the elements off it. I used to keep it inside with the mowers and log splitter but it was build on to the shed or do this little trick when the boat won out to stay inside.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 8:43PM
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david52 Zone 6

A shredded leaf, a whole leaf. The two in a compost pile - invision. If you were a microbe, evolved o'er the eons, you pick your status in life. The whole leaf, the chopped up leaf. Because, I mean here, hello? Forgetting the sociological / cosmopolitan class structure of leaf-breaking-down-microbes, are we?

The big kahuna's go first. Chopping up leaves entirely ignores the upper-crust of microbiology, the sorts of microbes who fund the Arts.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 10:51PM
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    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 2:50PM
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I too have tons of leaves and no way of shredding them -- my lawnmower is an old-fashioned push reel-mower. I have 2 oak trees, a snow crab, a maple and an ash. Everything broke down nicely over the winter except those darn oak leaves! So I would love to know is there is a quiet, easy way to shred those bad boys! Thank you.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 5:20PM
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There is no quiet way to shred any material, even chopping your material with a machette will make some noise. When the leaves are dry, a rotary mower will shred them just fine. A reel mower will not.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2008 at 7:50AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I have a push reel mower, but I stopped using it, because the oak trees drop so many sticks and nuts and duff throughout the year that the reel mower was constantly hanging up on all the little sticks and stuff.

I think the only quiet way to shred leaves would be with a scissors, that would take a very very very long time. ;-)

The main reason I shred leaves, is for mulch. Shredded leaf mulch stays in one place when spread out on the flower beds. Non-shredded leaf mulch tends to blow around a bit. The other advantage of shredding is volume reduction. I can store more shredded leaves in a garbage can, than non-shredded leaves.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 10:07AM
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I agree that ripping by hand or by scissors might be the only non noisy way. There are probably a few ways to make quicker leaf mold or something less likely to blow away.
Perhaps packing the oak leaves into the said garbage can and stomping them down to help flatten them. Then pile them up mixed with something moist and perhaps a little green for some composting action. Leave it bee for a while and see if it will stay put better in the garden beds after that treatment.

Here is a link that might be useful: My compost

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 10:10AM
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I tried the weed-whacker in a barrel trick and it really works, it pulverizes the (dried) leaves. Mixed with green grass clippings, it heats up quickly. I might eventually work out a system where I use a section of 1/2" hardware cloth in the side of a barrel to let the shredded leaves filter out as they are shredded. Then it's just a matter of adding leaves to the barrel and shredding continuously.

I have also started the leaf mold technique this year. I used a piece of fencing to make a 5' circular bin 5' tall and filled it with the oak leaves. It was full last fall. Now it has settled to 2/3.

Also, I mulched the leaves under the oak two years ago with a mower with a home made mulching blade. It was good for the grass and probably good for the tree, too. But leaves are too valuable a resource to just mulch into the grass every year.

The silver maple leaves are small enough that they mix ok with the grass clippings, but running over them with the mower helps. Unshredded oak leaves compost rather slowly.

I've got a hankering for a Troy Bilt shredder. I've had to deal with down trees and I could pay for a shredder with the savings from tree removal services. Even when I cut up a spruce, it still cost about $250 to get it hauled off. If I had a shredder, I could pile up the chipped material to compost it and use it under the other trees.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2008 at 2:27AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I bought my shredder used from a coworker who didn't want it anymore. It need a little bit work but not much. It works great. I have no idea what brand it is because there is no logo on it anymore, but the motor is a briggs and straton.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 10:13AM
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I put my leaves on the garden and till them in with the rest of the spent plants. I till in the fall a time or two any way so two birds with one till. By the time I till a time or two in the spring before I plant the leaves are pretty much composted. I guess I'am juist lazy !!!!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 11:27AM
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I mulch the leaves into the lawn using Gator blades on my riding mower. Since I also need some for my compost pile, I mulch the ones in the front yard and bag the ones in the back yard. Then next year I switch, bagging in the front yard and mulching in the back yard. The yard looks great and the compost pile is happy.

The mulching works best when the leaves are really, really dry. They crumble into very small pieces and just disappear into the grass.

The leaves that fall on the patio I vacuum up and shred with my leaf blower. Those go into the compost pile.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 12:10PM
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gnomey(7b SC zip296)

With the magnitude of magnolia leaves that I have and the ones available to me in this area I was just about to the point of using scissors.. that would have been so sad, but wonderful entertainment for my neighbors. I broke down and bought a shredder on ebay, so we'll see how that works out. I just can't wait a number of years for the magnolia leaves to break down so I can use them and they are what I can get in the greatest quantity.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 5:56PM
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mcav0y(z3/4 Anchorage)

I have taken dried leaves and put them in a plastic bin and stomped them. That seems to work really well. If they already in plastic bags, I stomp the bags with the leaves in them. Gets out that negative energy!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 8:19PM
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