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Proper Mulching Techniques

There is much more to mulch than just making the landscape look better. The type of mulch and the method by which it is placed are both important subjects when it comes to the health of both trees and plants. Proper mulching has several benefits:

  • Provides a uniform, healthy, well maintained look to the landscape.

  • It can shield the plant roots from temperature extremes.

  • The nutrients given from the different types of mulch can improve the soil of the plant the mulch surrounds as well as neighboring plants.

  • Helps maintain balanced watering in between rain/waterings.

  • Weed growth can be discouraged.

  • Mulch can help reduce damage from string trimmers and lawn mowers.

Types of Mulch

There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Inorganic mulches can include gravel, recycled tires, black plastics and more. Organic mulches can be made of many different types of material including pine needles, wood chips, leaves, hardwood and softwood bark, and other materials made from plants. In many cases, organic mulches are preferred as they break down over time which improves the soil quality, adds nutrients to trees, and adds organic materials to trees.

Proper Mulching Techniques

Improper mulching techniques can lead to several problems with the landscape:

  • Mulch that is too deep can cause root rot by allowing for excess moisture to reside in the buildup. This leads to stress on the plant itself and often suffocation as the buildup of excess moisture does not allow for oxygen to reach the roots.

  • High piles of mulch can lead to dwelling places of animals that may chew on the bark, girdling the tree. This can also lead to disease and insect problems.

  • Too much mulch can lead to a lack of nutrients getting to the roots of the plant. The soil pH levels can be affected by the different types of mulch, making the soil surrounding the plant acidified. This leads to nutrients that are needed not getting to the plant while other nutrients (such as iron, manganese, and zinc) reaching the plant at toxic levels.

With problems like these it is easy to see how mulching can go from one of the best things a home-owner can do for plants to one of the worst things. Here are some guidelines when it comes to properly mulching plants:

  • Weed the plant before laying the mulch. Weeding will always have to be done, but proper removal of weeds before laying the mulch will reduce the amount of work needed later on when removing weeds that have grown due to seed strewn by wind.

  • Determine the level of soil drainage and whether or not there are other plants that are close by that could be affected by choice of mulch.

  • How thick the layer of mulch depends on the drainage of the site. Well drained sites typically use anywhere between 2 and 4 inches (5 and 10 centimeters). Sites with poor drainage can use less. Leave a small gap between the mulch and the tree to leave adequate room for moisture to exit as well as oxygen to enter. Think of this as the plant’s “breathing room”.

  • Check the depth of preexisting mulch. If the depth is sufficient, break it up and make it look uniform by using a rake. Stay away from adding mulch simply for color. Many companies will use a water based vegetable dye to add color, which is a much better option as it prevents over mulching of the tree.

For the health and aesthetics of your yard, it is best to follow proper-mulching techniques or consult a professional landscaper who can ensure that your yard will be maintained appropriately.