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Mulching is one of the most important ways to maintain healthy landscape plants. A mulch is any material applied to the soil surface for protection or improvement of the area covered. Mulching is really nature’s idea. Nature produces large quantities of mulch all the time with fallen leaves, needles, twigs, pieces of bark, spent flower blossoms, fallen fruit and other organic material.

Benefits of Mulching

  • When applied correctly, mulch has the following beneficial effects on plants and soil:
  • Mulching prevents loss of water from the soil by evaporation
  • Mulching reduces the growth of weeds, when the mulch material itself is weed-free and applied deeply enough to prevent weed germination or to smother existing weeds
  • Mulching keeps the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, thus maintaining a more even soil temperature
  • Mulching prevents soil splashing, which not only stops erosion but keeps soil-borne diseases from splashing up onto your plants
  • Organic mulches can improve the soil structure as the mulch decays, the material becomes topsoil. Decaying mulch adds nutrients to the soil
  • Mulching prevents crusting of the soil surface, thus improving the absorption and movement of water into the soil
  • Mulching prevents the trunks of trees and shrubs from damage by lawn equipment
  • Mulching helps prevents soil compaction
  • Mulching can add to the beauty of the landscape by providing a cover of uniform color and interesting texture to the surface
  • Mulched plants have more roots than plants that are not mulched because mulched plants will produce additional roots in the mulch that surrounds them

Where to Use MulchMulch Example

Mulching is a very important practice for establishing new plantings, because it helps to conserve moisture in the root ball of the new plant until the roots have grown out into the surrounding soil. The growth rate and health of trees and shrubs increases when there is no competition for water and nutrients from weeds. Mulch also helps to prevent tree trunk injury by mowers and trimmers. Newly planted trees require a circle of mulch 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Maintain this for five years. Mulch entire beds of shrubs, trees, annuals, herbaceous perennials and ground covers.

How to Apply Mulch

Before applying any type of mulch to an area, it is best to weed the area. Spread a layer of mulching materials over the entire plant bed. Keep mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the stems of woody plants. This will prevent decay caused by wet mulch and rodent damage during the winter. Keep mulch 6 to 12 inches away from the walls of buildings.

Subterranean termites nest in the soil and feed on materials that contain cellulose. Termite treatments are applied to the soil around buildings, so keeping mulch away from walls will prevent termites from using it as a bridge to cross treated soil.

Newly planted trees require a circle of mulch 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Maintain this for at least three years. Do not pile mulch against the trunk. For established trees in lawns create a circle of mulch about 2 feet in diameter for each inch of trunk diameter. Increase the size of the mulched area as the tree grows. Try to apply the mulch at least 6 to 12 inches beyond the drip-line of the tree. Because the root system can extend two to three times the crown spread of the tree, mulch as large an area as possible.

How Deep to Mulch

The amount of mulch to apply depends on the texture and density of the mulch material. Many wood and bark mulches are composed of fine particles and should not be more than 2 to 3 inches deep. Excessive amounts of these fine-textured mulches can suffocate plant roots, resulting in yellowing of the leaves and poor growth.

Coarse-textured mulches such as pine bark nuggets allow good air movement through them and can be as deep as 4 inches.

Mulches composed of grass clippings or shredded leaves should never be deeper than 2 inches, because these materials tend to mat together, restricting the water and air supply to plant roots.