How to Correctly Mulch a Tree


Nov 27, 2019

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A few trees spread around your lawn can be a big part of your landscaping. Trees add visual appeal. In the summer, they also provide some welcome shade. Keeping them healthy is important, but how do you do that?

You’ve probably noticed that some of your neighbors have mulch around the base of their trees. It creates a nice visual effect, but is it good for the tree? The answer is yes if you do it correctly.

Here’s our guide on how to correctly mulch a tree.

The Benefits of Mulching Trees

Adding mulch around the base of a tree offers a number of benefits to the tree and to the yard owner.

Here are a handful of perks when you mulch your trees:

  • It creates a barrier around the tree trunk, protecting it from mower and trimmer damage.
  • It replenishes the soil as it decomposes, providing much-needed nutrients for the tree.
  • It suppresses weeds that can compete with a young tree’s roots for limited resources such as minerals and water.
  • It acts as a blanket protecting the soil from extreme heat and cold.
  • It reduces water evaporation and erosion.
  • It can help your trees resist pests and disease.
  • Protects the soil from compaction due to traffic which means air, water, and roots can penetrate the soil.

6 Simple Steps to Mulching Your Trees

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Mulching your trees isn’t difficult, but it is important to do it right. Improper mulching can severely hurt your trees’ growth and even kill them off. Follow these steps to create the perfect mulch bed around your favorite trees.

1. Choose Your Mulch – When picking a mulch for your landscape trees, go for organic materials. Organic mulch will break down over time adding nutrients to the soil. Tree bark, wood chips, pine needles, and compost all work well. Avoid cocoa mulch if you have pets as it is toxic to their systems.

2. Aim for Mid-Spring – While you can add your mulch any time of year, mid-spring is the sweet spot. The soil should have warmed up enough to encourage root growth.

3. Clear the Grass from the Area – You can either manually remove the turf with a shovel, being careful to avoid damaging the tree roots or you can use newspaper. Lay down black and white newspaper around the tree out to the edge of the canopy. Use about 10 layers of paper. Then, wet the newspaper before adding your mulch.

4. Add Your Mulch – For most mulch types you want to spread it 2 – 4 inches deep. Add less for finely shredded mulch. You want air and water to still be able to get through. Leave a ring around the base of the tree where the roots start to flare out. You don’t want to crowd it.

5. Water Your Mulch – Get things started with a good soak. Don’t worry about that newspaper, it will kill that grass and then both the grass and the newspaper will decompose adding nutrients to the soil.

Avoid These Common Tree Mulching Mistakes

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As we mentioned, improper mulching can cause a lot more damage than good. Avoid these common mistakes that can hurt your trees.

Too Much Mulch – More mulch isn’t necessarily better. If you add too deep of a layer of mulch you’re inviting a whole host of problems including root suffocation, fungal and bacterial disease, insects such as carpenter ants and termites, rodents, and overheating.

Volcanoing – This means heaping up the mulch so that it’s piled up against the trunk. Besides obviously having too much mulch, this crowds the base of the tree and can quickly kill the tree. The mulch holds in moisture that can start to rot the bark and exposed roots. You want the trunk to stay dry while the underground roots stay moist.

Plastic Weed Barriers – Laying down plastic to suppress weeds before mulching may sound like a good idea, but that plastic doesn’t breathe. You want water and air to get in so you don’t suffocate or overheat those roots.

Cheap Mulch – If you can get free or cheap mulch from a local source such as the city landfill, be careful. You may get more than you bargained for. That mulch could contain herbicides, pesticides, or other materials that will do more harm than good to your tree.

Adding Mulch To Last Year’s Mulch – Regardless of how old it is, you want to stay in that 2 – 4 inch depth. If you need to, remove some of last year’s mulch before adding more.

Proper mulching for landscape trees can help them grow faster and stronger. It also looks great and makes mowing a lot easier. It’s not hard to do it right and you’ll love the look once you are done.