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GardenSMART :: Mulching Tips From the Pros

Mulching Tips From the Pros

By The National Association of Landscape Professionals
Photograph courtesy of R.P. Marzilli & Company and

Applying a layer of mulch is one of the best things you can do for your trees and bedding plants. In addition to adding color and texture to a landscape, retaining moisture, suppressing weeds, and acting as an insulator, organic mulches have many natural benefits. They:

  • Help prevent soil compaction, act as a soil conditioner, and even encourage the presence of natural aerators, like earthworms.
  • Add nutrients by contributing to the availability of potassium and can add nitrogen, phosphorus, and trace elements to the soil.
  • Are an ideal way to make use of recycled yard waste.

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Mulching materials can either be organic or inorganic. Common organic mulches include wood chips, shredded bark, pine needles, shredded leaves, and straw. Lawn clippings and even crop byproducts such as ground corncobs and hulls from buckwheat or cocoa beans are also choice covers. Inorganic, or commercial mulches are available in several varieties, colors and price ranges. Your landscape professional can help you understand the timing and the type of mulch best suited for your application.

Before you get out the shovel and trowel, here are a few things to consider prior to applying mulch around trees or in your garden beds:

  • Once you begin mulching stay with it. Removing a layer of mulch will dry out the soil and potentially injure the roots below.
  • There are generally two periods for proper mulching. A layer of mulch maintained at two inches thick should be applied to your garden beds in the spring after the ground has thawed. A second mulch application in the fall after the ground is frozen will further insulate and protect plants.
  • Mounding the mulch around trees is a common mistake many homeowners make. Mounding mulch against a tree's trunk can lead to bark rot, disease, and insect problems. Instead, spread the mulch so it extends a couple of inches from the base of the tree in a layer approximately three to four inches deep. Make sure it is higher at the outside edges. The saucer shape will keep the mulch away from the tree and help hold and distribute water to the tree's root system.
  • Avoid over applying mulch. Spreading mulch too thick can cause roots to grow shallow and make them more susceptible to death during extended dry periods.
  • Use woody or bark mulches in areas where you won't be doing a lot of digging, e.g., around trees and in flowerbeds. Lighter mulch material such as straw, which is easily worked into the soil, is better suited for vegetable gardens where replanting may be commonplace.

The application of mulch certainly adds a completed look to your landscape. Aesthetically it finishes off a focus area; however its greater value is in the benefits it offers to the hidden roots it covers.


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