How to Mulch Trees, Shrubs

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Don't Pile Mulch Too High Around the Base of a Tree!
Mulch Volcanoes Endanger
Trees and Shrubs

Have you noticed more and more
tree trunks in the area with thick
mounds of bark mulch circling their bases? If you've been wondering about
these mountainous mulch "volcanoes" during fall planting season, then take
the following quiz: Cones of mulch carefully banked up against the tree trunk

a) An epidemic of good landscaping

b) A harmless copycat practice that has become the latest trend in suburban

c) Potentially very harmful, seriously weakening, and eventually killing the

Alarmingly, the answer is "c"!

Many homeowners and landscapers have recently developed the mistaken
notion that mounding bark mulch directly against the bases of trees and shrubs
is good for the plants. It is not! In fact, these "volcanoes" are making the trunks
of trees and shrubs susceptible to rot from fungi, microorganisms, and insects.
The mulch also promotes the growth of secondary roots, which can encircle the
trunk and choke off the tree.s main roots. Tree and shrub trunks are designed
by nature to be exposed to the air, not to the constant moisture of bark mulch.

According to both Dr. Greg Lowenberg, education director of the New England
Wild Flower Society, America's oldest plant conservation organization, as well
as experts at the National Arborist Association, too much mulch can even
smother a tree's root system.

So, what's the proper way to apply mulch? First, keep any mulch at least  six
inches back from the trunk. Add a 2-4 inch layer of organic matter over the
plant's root system (woodchips, bark mulch, and compost are all good). The
roots of most trees and shrubs extend out to at least the drip line of the
branches, but if you want some lawn under the tree, then just make the circular
band of mulch cover as large an area as you can. Adding a layer of mulch over
tree and shrub roots helps conserve moisture and keeps the soil cooler in
summer, but more of a good thing is not necessarily better!

Remember, no more than four inches of mulch is needed, kept well away from
the trunk. If your tree is already mounded with mulch, you can carefully
excavate and pull back the material, clipping away any small secondary roots
that have formed.

For more information on horticulture, botany, and conservation concerns, contact the
Education Department, New England Wild Flower Society, Garden in the Woods, 180
Hemenway Road, Framingham, MA 01701; (508) 877-7630, ext. 3303. or visit the
website at If you want more information on planting, mulching, or care
of trees contact the National Arborist Association at (800) 733-2622 or
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