Should I Mulch Around Trees?

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Simply put, yes, you should mulch around trees! If you want your trees to grow healthy and strong, you’ll have to care for them properly, and applying mulch to their bases is one of the best things you can do for your tree.

Applying a layer of mulch around your tree’s base can help protect its roots from the elements, locking in moisture and reducing its competition with other nearby plants – like your lawn. It can also supply your tree with vital nutrients throughout the year and discourage insects and other pests from moving in. 

Also, according to the United States forest service, mulching can also accelerate your trees growth rate!

Are you ready to mulch around trees but not sure where to start? Do you have some unanswered questions about how to use this gardening method? If so, this is your article! 

Keep reading for everything you need to know – and your top questions answered. 

Benefits of Mulch Around Trees:

  • Almost doubles the growth rate of newly planted trees. Walnut trees experience an 89% increased growth rate while other hardwoods (oak, maple, hickory, birch, beech, and cherry trees) experience an increased growth rate of 79%.
  • Insulates the soil helping to provide a buffer from heat and cold temperatures.
  • Retains water helping to keep the roots moist.
  • Keeps out weeds to help prevent root competition.
  • Prevents soil compaction.
  • Helps tree’s soil accumulate and keep more nutrients
  • Reduces lawn mower damage.

Choosing Mulch

While there are myriad options when it comes to materials, organic mulches are your best bet. Try to avoid any product that contains dyes or additives, and instead opt for an all-natural substrate. This is especially important if you’re growing fruit trees or any other edible species!

If you’re planning to landscape around your trees, it’s even more essential that you choose the right product for the job, giving your tree and smaller plants the vital organic nutrients that they crave – while allowing for proper air and water flow. A professional arborist can help plan your garden and offer expert advice on which mulch is best for your climate and conditions. 

Proper Technique Is Essential

Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to put down mulch. For example, excessive mulching can cause more harm than good – blocking proper drainage and air circulation. You also want to avoid creating a mulch volcano, piling your substrate up around the tree’s base. 

Read our article on five mulching mistakes to avoid for more information. 

Creating your tree’s mulch ring is simple. Start your mulch three to six inches from the trunk, extending out in all directions for at least three feet. Your mulch layer should be between two and four inches deep or thick.

Throughout the year, some mulch will be blown or washed away. And smaller pieces will begin to break down. This makes upkeep an essential part of your seasonal tree care. 

Can You Apply Too Much Mulch?mulch around trees 1

Yes, it is very common for individuals to apply too much mulch. The most common example of this is when trees have mulch volcanoes. A mulch volcano is an industry nickname for piling mulch around a tree trunk forming what looks like a mulch hill. This can severely hurt the tree. When you use too much mulch you expose your tree to the following situations.

  • An increased susceptibility to insects & diseases caused by mulch irritation on the trunk of the tree.
  • Girdling Root Systems – a condition where smaller roots wrap around a dominate root choking it and not allowing the tree to absorb nutrients.
  • Rodent issues – mulch piled high against the trunks of trees create habitats for rodents that chew the tree’s bark.
  • Root Rot from excess moisture

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Can Mulch Kill A Tree?

Yes, when trees suffer year after year from mulch volcanoes they start to experience the complications discussed above. Once your tree has developed one or more these complications (root rot, a girdling root system, a disease, or an infestation) it can die.

What Can I Do If My Tree Has Been Over-Mulched?

If this is the first year your tree has been over-mulched, you can simply go out and remove or spread out the excess mulch. Use the proper mulching tips in the next section below to make sure you redistribute your mulch correctly.

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If your tree has been over-mulched for years you will most likely need a few treatments to get it healthy again.

  • Root Collar Excavation: this process opens up the tree’s root zone using pressurized air. This doesn’t hurt the tree’s roots and allows the arborist to inspect the root system to see if there are girdling roots or root rot.
  • Treatments: based on what is found during the root collar excavation your tree may need treatment for root rot or root pruning to trim back the girdling roots.
  • Bio-stimulants: since your tree has been kept in an unhealthy situation for years bio-stimulants can be used as a multi-vitamin to make sure the tree has all the nutrients it needs to strengthen its immune system and recover from over-mulching.

Take a look at the video below to see use correct an over-mulching situation at a local HOA using a root collar excavation, root pruning, and proper re-mulching.