Every experienced gardener knows that leaves make great mulch. And in the autumn they fall free from the sky. Unfortunately, they tend to be dry and blow around in the wind, so chopping or shedding them before application is a must. Why? As leaves decompose they adhere to each other; thick layers of entire leaves, especially of maples and oaks, can form a soggy mat in winter and spring which can impede the new growth lawn grass and other plants.
This fall I’m considering putting a leaf shredder in my garden tool shed. My neighbor has this leaf shredder and it is one cool tool. Would I be better off with a small, portable machine that only handles leaves like my neighbors or bigger more powerful chipper/shredder? Leaf shredders suck leaves and material off the ground, shred it, and blow it into an attached collection bag. Some of these machines are also self-propelled. However, for my purposes, I want to chip up more than leaves. I want to toss leaves, straw, brush, end-of-season plant remains, and small tree branches in the contraption with no problems. Of course, the type of shredding I’m talking about requires the power of at least a 6hp engine. Due to budget constraints, it has to be one type of machine or the other, not both. Chipper-shredder prices are all over the board, but they typically start at $200 for small electric models that shred leaves and very small branches. The heavier-duty, 10 to 18 horsepower, gas-powered models run from $1,500 to $3,000 or more. There are stand-alone types, and models that can be towed by lawn or garden tractors.
After careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that a wood chipper is a more versatile tool than a leaf shredder and maybe a better overall value as well. With a low-powered portable shredder, almost every twig that gets sucked into the machine will jam the works, which means I’d have to constantly free it. After a while, it isn’t worth the bother. A leaf mulched is basically a leaf blower that works in reverse to suck in leaves, shred them, and bag them. The cons of using a leaf shredder are added cost (i.e., bags), limited utility, and increased hassle (to empty the bags). The Weekend Gardener agrees, “A shredder-chipper is one of the best ways to quickly turn huge piles of leaves and twigs into small mounds of mulch, and the best part is that it is an easy to use piece of garden equipment.”
With a gas-powered chipper/shredder, I will have enough chips to mulch my flower beds and under my fruit trees and shrubs. Of course, if your only interest is in shredding leaves, you will be better off with the lower-cost, more maneuverable leaf shredder.