January 9, 2019 Mulch is just not as simple as it looks. Not every tree needs the same kind or level of care. So what you do with mulch plays an important part in delivering the right kind of TLC, especially in the winter months. If you love trees, it is understandable you will want to do the right thing by them. Unfortunately, saplings and seeds typically do not come with much of an instruction manual, unless you buy from a reputable Horticulturist Company or are guided by a great teacher. The Importance of Mulch For trees, certain types of shrubs, and plants, mulch is an essential element of maintenance. In many cases, not enough or too much consideration is given to mulch. At Front Range Arborists, we field questions all the time about how to use mulch to promote healthy trees. When you look at how others mulch, what do you see? You will most likely encounter an assortment of approaches, with some favoring more mulch than others. It is not unusual to see nurseries using as much as 6-12 inches of mulch, which will smother the base of a tree. For the record, that is way too much, but there are others who do not use any mulch at all, or too little. It is also common to see different amounts of mulch used in the winter versus in the summer. Instead of relying on what others are doing as a benchmark, it is better to follow the best practices of a qualified arborist in Colorado. That way, you won’t have to constantly second guess whether you are doing the right thing to ensure healthy and strong trees. What is Mulch? Before you start piling mulch around your trees, it may help to first understand exactly what it is and the function it performs. Mulch may consist of either organic or inorganic materials. Typical mulches are derived from pine needles, leaves, compost mixes, or humble wood chips. Arborists love organic mulch because it doesn’t stop providing benefits when it dies, so to speak. As organic mulch decomposes, it continues to provide nutrients to the soil. We use mulch at the base of trees to trap moisture and keep the temperature regulated. If you live in Colorado, this is especially important, as root systems can dry out quickly in the hot sun. The mulch will also keep your trees well insulated in the winter months. You do not want to damage your trees when tending to the lawn, which is why mulch is essential as a buffer. Most weeds are easily controlled around trees if you use mulch correctly. Additionally, the continued use of mulch has an accumulative benefit to soil conditions and structure. Where to Put Mulch Typically, mulch spreads out 3 feet from the base of the tree, which brings it to the edge of the tree’s crown. It is recommended you do not use a layer of mulch that is over 4 inches thick, with 2 inches as your minimum thickness. Also, make sure you do not cover the trunk of the tree; a volcano effect created with mulch is not your target. When you are watering a new tree, do so slowly in order to give the tree the most benefit from the water. Next, apply mulch to keep the moisture locked in – feeding and protecting the tree. You will then need to make sure the tree is checked each consecutive year to determine if new much is needed. If you already have mulch around a tree but need to add fresh mulch, break up any chunks. This ensures water is still able to penetrate and get to the tree’s root system and base. Add any new mulch on top of the existing layer, making sure to check the depth does not exceed 2-4 inches. Sapling Steps So far, you have been introduced to the most fundamental basics of using mulch effectively. However, there is so much more still to learn. In the meantime, always keep the 3-3-3 rule in mind to keep your trees healthy and strong throughout the year. Mulch 3 inches away from the trunk of the tree, aim for 3 inches deep, and mulch roughly 3 feet in diameter around the tree. If you have followed these rules and are experiencing issues with tree health, it is time to give Front Range Arborists a call in Colorado. We can get to the root of the problem and provide effective solutions to save your trees. Call Front Range Arborists today for all your pruning, mulching, and general tree health needs in Colorado. We are qualified and licensed arborists who understand what it takes to ensure trees get the water and nutrients they need to grow strong.