How To Use Mulch Around Trees

December 1, 2021
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If you have trees around your yard you may want to consider offsetting them against the grass by mulching around them or putting a bed of flowers around them and then mulching that.

Adding mulch to the base of your tree provides both an aesthetic and functional purpose. Aesthetically, adding mulch will accent your tree, allowing it to pop in your landscaping. If you are especially mindful about the type and color of mulch that you use, you can create a gorgeous backdrop for parties, pictures, and family game days!

Mulching around Trees Lets Them Thrive

Functionally, grass will inevitably grow around the trunk of the tree and will need to be trimmed away. However, when using a lawnmower or a weed trimmer you run the risk of nicking the trunk of the tree causing damage to the trunk. Obviously, damage to the trunk of a tree isn’t good for the overall health of a tree. The mulch will also prevent this from happening in another way: mulch prevents the growth of weeds and grass at the foot of the tree. The base of a tree has a lot of nutrients in the soil, which the roots always need, which allows for the growth of grass and roots. But, with a layer of mulch, grass and weeds don’t get adequate sunlight, so they are not able to grow as efficiently. Furthermore, mulching fosters a better environment for trees to thrive, allowing for better access to nutrients, moisture conservation for the tree roots, soil temperature moderation, and increased soil aeration. It seems counterproductive, but mulching allows for a barrier of protection for the trees, especially in the cold, dry winter months. When it is a cold winter, the tree’s growth may be hindered because of the drop in temperature; however, if mulch is protecting the tree roots, the mulch is able to insulate the warmth and protect the tree from the harsh cold. Additionally, winter months bring dry weather, and trees need constant moisture to grow. The extra barrier provided by the mulch contains the moisture for the tree’s roots.

Mulching around Small Trees

For smaller trees, you should use a shovelful or two of mulch and spread it around the base of the tree in a circle. Even out the 2 inch thick circle of mulch around the tree. Avoid making a “mulch volcano” around the base of your tree with a pile of mulch that’s more than a few inches thick. If your mulch is too thick you’ll actually be cutting off the possible supply of water and air that can reach the roots.

Using your hands (fitted with gloves) run a little ring around the trunk, pushing the mulch a few inches away so it doesn’t completely touch the tree trunk. It will eventually all settle so you may have to pull the mulch away from the trunk from time to time throughout the season. You really don’t want to completely cover the roots of a small tree with mulch. You need to make sure that some air and water can get right to base of the tree trunk and roots when it rains.

The same is true when you’re mulching around larger trees: Again, use a few inches of mulch around your tree in a circle, but don’t pile the mulch right up against the bark of the tree. Mulch will hold in moisture and cause the bark around the base of your tree to get soggy and soft which can invite disease and pests. Instead, keep a few inches of space between the base of your tree and the mulch circle surrounding it. You can also use some sort of landscaping barrier like stones or blocks or a plastic landscaping fence to keep your mulch in a neat circle.

When you’re mulching your tree, you want to avoid making a “mulch volcano” around the base of your tree with a pile of mulch that’s more than a few inches thick. This is really important! While we’re unsure why this concept is called a “mulch volcano”, we do know the detriments of such an action. There are many negative consequences to overmulching your trees, including fungus growth, proliferation of rodents, and wasted money on excess mulch. Furthermore, if your mulch is too thick, you’ll actually be cutting off the possible supply of water and air that can reach the roots. However, if you like the look of mulch around your tree, take the liberty of expanding the ring! There’s no limit to how far out the mulch can go, based on the aesthetic that you like. Just be mindful to keep the ring circular and shaped, in order for it to look tidy and neat.

How Much Mulch do I Buy for Mulching around Trees?

The next question is what mulch do I buy?? Honestly, a good question, and we’ve got a simple answer for you! You want a mulch that can provide proper aeration, yet not be too big that the pieces will drift away, leaving gaps under your tree. Organic mulches are also better than non-organic (i.e., plastic) mulches because they promote growth by providing nutrients as they decompose. We recommend our Double Shredded Hardwood Mulch, which will provide the best option for your trees.

Finally, the last question is how often you should be mulching your trees. About once a year is good, as the organic mulches will decompose and the soil will be exposed again. There is no perfect time to re-mulch your trees, but we recommend mid-to-late Spring. In early spring, seedlings will sprout, which gives them time to grow before you place the mulch.