Trees drink a lot of water, especially big trees. And the more they drink, the less water is available for other greenery nearby. The result? Ugly, brown, barren soil in a widening circle around the base of your larger trees. No matter what you throw at this circle of thirsty soil, nothing seems to grow. Well, except, perhaps, for some scraggly grass – and nobody thinks that looks good.
What to do? How do you deal with an unsightly brown bare patch, or a scraggly grassy mess, underneath a beautiful, towering cedar? The answer might be mulch.
What is Mulch?
Mulch refers to a broad category of products that can be placed or spread over a layer of soil to cover it, or for decorative purposes. Mulch can refer to chipped bark, grass clippings, straw, shredded leaves, or even compressed pine needles. Each type of material has its own benefits and use cases; however, what they all share is that they can be laid on the surface of soil – whether to add nutrients, cover unsightly patches where nothing will grow, or to add focus and depth to a landscaping project.
Which Mulch to Use?
If your concern is to cover up bare soil spots around a tree, then the mulch to get is one that is visually appealing, easy to spread, and slow to decompose. All mulch decomposes over time and must be replaced, but some mulches decompose more slowly than others. A good tip to know is that if the mulch you choose is particularly dry and woody, it will decompose more slowly than will a wet, fresher kind of mulch.
You should also consider where the mulch you choose comes from, as it can contain stowaway seeds from unknown plants that might sprout and grow, ruining the aesthetic and purpose of your mulch bed.
For mulch designed primarily as a cover, the best product to use might be bark mulch. Bark mulch can be purchased in various colors, sizes, and compositions depending on your particular needs. An advantage of bark mulch is that it won’t mix into the soil as easily as will other kinds of mulch, so a bark mulch covering will provide more visual distinctiveness and textural interest around your tree. Bark mulch is also very slow to decompose compared to other kinds of mulch.
How to Mulch Around a Tree
The amount of mulch you use will vary based on the size of the tree you’re working with, as well as the footprint where the tree monopolizes the water in the soil. For a smaller tree with not much of a bare soil footprint, you’ll obviously need a lot less mulch than you would for a towering cedar that likes to suck up all the water in a large part of your yard. For your smaller trees, therefore, consider just a few shovelfuls of bark mulch, spread around the tree’s base in a circular pattern, around two inches thick. Keep your mulch neat and tidy, as that’ll help with the aesthetics of your project – essentially creating a mulch toupee for your bald soil. The key is not to make your mulch too thick around your tree, otherwise, you risk preventing the tree from getting water to its roots. If the mulch is too thick, then a rain shower won’t trickle down to the tree, leaving the tree thirsty. Plus, you risk suffocating your tree – it needs a supply of air as well as water above the soil line in order to thrive.
The best way to get the mulch to look attractive and to serve the purpose you intend it to serve without damaging your tree is to do a lot of the work by hand. Use a shovel initially to get the mulch in place, but then get down on your knees and start to work on it carefully. Shape the mulch into a ring around the tree trunk, but make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk directly. As the mulch settles over time, you’ll need to keep an eye on it, and you may need to get out there and redistribute the mulch as needed to keep it in its proper form. Again, the key is not to cover all of the tree’s root system with mulch – you do not want to suffocate the tree or prevent it from getting the water it needs.
If you’re working with a larger tree, like that towering cedar or lodgepole pine that is the centerpiece of your yard, then your mulch circle will necessarily need to be larger, and the job of mulching properly around the tree will be more complex and require a good deal more mulch. Once again, you don’t want to stuff mulch right up against the tree’s trunk. If your mulch holds onto moisture, you can end up with a soggy tree trunk. And you know who loves a soggy tree trunk? Pests and diseases. And again, even the biggest tree needs air and water on a regular basis, so you don’t want to go too heavy with your mulch load.
It can also make sense to create a decorative and practical barrier around your tree that will help keep your mulch in a neat and tidy arrangement. Using decorative paving stones, river rocks, or even gravel can really make the difference in preventing your mulch from going raggedy all over your yard, and creating such a barrier will help maintain an aesthetic and functional mulch covering for your trees.
Whatever your project, mulch can really help add some aesthetic pizazz to your yard – especially if you consider using a multicolored variety. In addition to the aesthetic benefit of covering up those unsightly bare spots under your trees, mulch provides protection and nutrition to the trees and the beneficial organisms that live in the ecosystem – earthworms and the like – and helps keep your yard looking good and healthy. Just be sure to use mulch properly and judiciously, and you’ll have your yard looking fantastic in no time. Especially because Saunders Landscape Supply delivers fast and FREE!