Is Mulch Necessary?

The mulch ring keeps the tree moist and happy.

The mulch ring keeps the tree moist and happy.

It can be a lot of heavy, sweaty work.

You see it everywhere, around trees and shrubs, at the park, at nice homes.

Even at the gas station, mulch is used at the base of plants.

Is mulch just decorative or is it necessary for healthy, growing plants?

Why Mulch Matters
  • Moisture

Mulch locks in moisture. Available water is critical for survival during the first two years after transplant (installation). Heck, maybe five years. Mulch saves water. When drought strikes, keep the area UNDER the mulch wet.

  • Weed Control

The surface of the mulch will stay dry, so weeds will germinate poorly. The mulch (and soil) underneath stays moist, so the plant stays happy and healthy. When weeds do grow on mulch, they are easier to pull or hoe, because the mulch is soft and looser than soil.

Mulch also keeps grass from growing at the base of trees and shrubs. This allows the plant to capture all of the available water and nutrients.

  • No Soil Compaction

Compacted soil doesn’t grow roots. It’s too dense for roots to push through. Mulch prevents compaction from lawn mower tires because it’s grass free. There’s no need to travel on top of it, so the soil stays loose and ideal for root growth.

  • Organic Matter Creation

Why is organic matter good? It’s the natural fertilizer from the soil food web. If you’re not fertilizing with inorganic fertilizer, your plants get all their nourishment from the organic layer of soil. It’s a very thin layer at the soil line.

Mulch can thicken the organic matter layer and it keeps it moist, so the organic matter is ALIVE!

My Mulch Recommendations
  • Pine Straw

It’s easy to spread, lightweight, inexpensive, lasts several years. This works great on acid loving plants like blueberries and azaleas.

  • Pine Tree Bark

It turns to organic matter slowly, thus building your soil. It dries quickly, so it can be an effective weed barrier.

  • Choose conifer bark mulch over hardwood tree mulch

Conifer (pine, douglas fir) bark mulch doesn’t rot as quickly as hardwood mulch. Hardwood mulch is more likely to harbor termites.

Mulch Best Practices
  • Turn the mulch annually with a rake or hoe.

By turning the mulch pile and raking it around, you’re opening the mold to fresh air and the pile will compost normally.

How Much Mulch do I Need?

I don’t like it over 4 inches thick. Leave the stem exposed to the root flair. Rodents and disease can strike if the stem is buried. The outer layer of plant stems is soft and tender immediately under the bark. It’s the cambium layer. The cambium is where all the water and nutrients flow up and down the stems. If a rabbit or rat chews the cambium all the way around the tree stem above is dead. I mean a stick. You hear me?

A Mulch Volcano is a waste of money. Two inches deep max.

A Mulch Volcano is a waste of money. Two-four inches deep max.

So don’t make a mulch volcano. Horticulturists will make fun of you. And you don’t need to buy so much mulch. A win-win. Well, almost. I like the wider the better.

Mulch is Optional, but Highly Recommended

There’s no reason not to use mulch for new transplants. They need that help because the roots are growing from a container rootball. Meaning 100% of the roots supplying life are right underneath the tree trunk or shrub stems. Mulch helps keep that area moist. 

Agree or disagree? Let me know on the Facebook Page!

How to Protect Trees from Ice Storm Damage

There’s nothing worse in the winter than an ice storm.

This leyland cypress tree failed due to poor branching structure and a bad install job.

This leyland cypress tree failed due to poor branching structure and a bad install job.

You hear the trees outside cracking and snapping. It can break your heart.

You feel helpless…

What can you do?

Nothing at this point. But you can help young trees prepare for the next ice storm. There will always be another…

Pruning Branches Correctly
  • Choose a central leader. This is easy for oaks, magnolias, and other pyramidal trees. It’s more difficult for pears, redbuds, and zelkovas. Choose one branch to grow straight up and remove the rest. Don’t leave forked branches. It’s the weakest angle.
Buy The Right Tree Varieties
  • Don’t pick a callery pear tree. Yes, they’re popular and pretty. They have great fall color too. But they are short lived. They are very susceptible to wind and ice damage.
Install The Tree Right
This leyland cypress was not installed properly. The roots did not develop properly.

This leyland cypress was not installed correctly. The roots did not develop properly and failed when the ice weighed the tree down.

Thankfully, ice storms only happen once in a while. You’ll sleep better the next time, knowing you did everything you could. Now, whose ready for Spring!?

For more on winter protection, check out this post on protecting tender plants.

Instant Success – How to Take a Soil Test

Why do you even care? You’re busy, right!?Soil Test Warning

Soil tests tell you exactly what your lawn, landscape, or soil is missing. Add the proper ingredients and your patch will thank you by looking great!

Soil tests are used by the pros, because they work!

You Probably Know Your Problem Area

If you definitely have bad soil in one spot and better soil in other places, consider two soil samples for lab analysis. I recently paid $8.50 for each sample with a 10 day result. Call your local farm extension office for options.

Where To Buy

I have never bought soil testing equipment online. I don’t endorse any soil testing kit sold online. Just send your soil off to a pro lab through professional networks.

Your local agriculture extension office will know where to go. If you have a local farm store, they will know what to do. You may have a farmer’s co-op in the area, they’ll have an answer.

Step by Step
  • Scrape the vegetation (grass, etc.) away from the hole. You don’t want grass or any organic matter in the sample, just soil. Organic matter like grass will skew your lab results.
  • Dig a small round hole 6 in. deep. Place the backfill soil away so it doesn’t mix with your sample.
  • Shave the edges of the hole with a trowel or spade and use as your sample.
  • Place the soil sample in two (double-bagged) plastic grocery bags to prevent spillage in the car.
  • Dig two more holes and repeat (Optional, but recommended).
  • Follow any additional instructions on soil test bag.
Understanding Your Soil Test Results
  • Actual soil test results. Notice the recommendations at the bottom based on pounds (lbs.) per 1000 sq. ft.

Your results will describe the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, etc. This is why you buy the soil test from a farm store. They will know how to interpret the results and have the ingredients you need to fix your soil.

For example, say you want green grass. You get a soil test. It shows low magnesium and calcium. You add limestone in the proper amount, the soil pH changes, and your grass looks brilliant.

If you get a soil test and need help with the results, please contact me on the Facebook page and I’ll do all I can to help you succeed!