Mulching is a spring ritual to ward off the onslaught of weeds and conserve water. Trust me. No one likes to weed. Plus, there is nothing like fresh mulch to make a garden and tree beds look beautiful. Could too much mulch be a bad thing?
Well, I pride myself on how well I tend to my yard. This year, I decided to hire Marc Zukovich, the gardening coach, to give me a second opinion. Guess what? I was smothering my beloved trees with mulch. Killing them softly, so to speak.
Yes, I am the tree terminator.
In my earnest desire to keep the weeds at bay I was creating volcano mounds of mulch. In the old days, I would be tied to a tree and whipped.
So Don’t Be a Mulch-erinator
Mark taught me the following:
- Only use 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch. He suggested hardwood mulch.
- If you can, make a mulch circle around the tree’s drip line. (What’s the drip line? If you drew a line from the end of the branches to the ground, this would be the drip line.) Mark said if you can’t make that large of a circle, a 2 to 3 foot circle is fine.
- Mulch should not be placed on top of the bark. You should be able to see the tree’s neck with a smattering of mulch near the bark. Think of the tree as a neck. An inch of mulch should be placed where the neck meets the shoulders. If you go in a forest, you don’t see mulch piled up on the bark of the tree.
- Each year, check to see if you need more mulch. Don’t just pile it on to make it look pretty. Mark further advised to turn it over instead. Of course, I worried about unearthing weed seed. He suggested using Preen or Corn Gluten for the weeds. (Note, both Preen and regular Corn Gluten contains genetically modified corn. If you care, please see here for a non-GMO source of corn gluten.)
Watch this video if you want a more visual lesson.
How Not to Be a Mulch Hoarder
When I whimpered about not having that nice dark colored mulch, Mark suggested using a store bought dye to spray the mulch. Mulch Magic is a colorant for faded mulch. However, it contains a petroleum based product (carbon black) and a solvent for the brown color. The Washington State Extension states as it pertains to Mulch Magic,
“Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether is a fairly common solvent for paints and inks with purportedly low environmental toxicity, but can irritate skin and eyes. Carbon black can be made from various sources but is basically a petroleum product, used in laser printer and photocopier toner as well as the manufacture of reinforced rubber (i.e. tires). Most concerns are related to worker inhalation at the point of manufacture. Iron oxide is, well, oxidized iron, and has been used as a pigment for quite a while (i.e. cave paintings at Lascaux, Bob Ross, etc.).”
Personally, I wouldn’t use it, but that’s me.
However, if you want to make your own mulch dye, see here for a tutorial. (I am trying the coffee grounds dye recipe since I am the coffee ground queen. Yep, more uses for coffee grounds!)
Next up. What kind of mulch should you buy that doesn’t make you want to throw up. No fooling.
Join the Conversation
- Are you like me, and keep piling on the mulch?
- Do you dye your older mulch?
I’ve killed a few trees with suffocating them with over mulching….well, correction….my gardener did. *sigh*
Anna@Green Talk says
Karen, the landscaper just love to make those volcanoes. Now I wonder why my trees are prospering. I am killing them.
Back to the gardener’s hall of shame.
Michele Elise says
I suggest that instead of trying to attain the impossible, perhaps its time instead to rethink out ideas of beauty…I suggest here, have you ever seen a woman in her 60’s who has, for whatever reason kept her hair long and didn’t dye it? Obviously that’s not every woman’s cup of tea, but I have seen such women and thought to myself I want to be just like that when I’m old, allowing myself grace in aging and individuality, and accepting the fact that I will age and it is a process that is natural and normal. My lawn is quite the same. In my expansive front yard there is a curvy strip of white violets right now. It looks like a curvy brook of white, babbling across my front yard. Butterflies and even hummingbirds are visiting. Robins are hop hop hopping through it in the early morning hours. I have another strip of land that is really merely a footpath that leads to a side yard. There are wild columbines, ferns, several different colors of wild violets that when left alone will form their own mounds of foliage and flowers. I let it grow wildly and let it do what it likes at least in the spring when they are flowering. In about 3 weeks the patches of different colors and differences in heights of the various plants (all of them weeds by the way) give a Monet type of look to the area, that is stunning! I make the argument that great beauty can be found in a simple weed! In fact I have these simple petaled white flowered wild roses that I’m going to transplant to my front yard to border the street. I looked them up once they are considered a weed. The thing is though you can’t kill them and they put on a nice display every spring. I give them zero care yet they thrive because they are a native species. I say why not enjoy that, stop trying to keep up with the Jones’, spending hundreds of dollars on lawn treatments, fertilizers mined from the earth that causes so much destruction, lacing your yard with poisons to kill bugs that live there (that should live there by the way as part of the natural balance of things) and that you then have to keep pets and children off of for a length of time because…well…it’s poison you realize, as well as funky dyes that are most certainly not natural in colors like ridiculous red and black blacker than night!?!? I tell you there is a great lot of peace of mind that comes with treating the earth as if you love it. There are so many benefits. I never worry about animals in the yard. I never worry about my daughter in the yard. In my yard at any given time you can find wild turkeys, loads of chipmunks that drive the cats nuts (and are hardly ever caught, since I have those lovely New England rock walls all over the place!) I have seen deer, cottontail rabbits which are endangered (and have found refuge in my yard…I feel honored!), coyotes, foxes, raccoon, squirrels, red squirrels, song birds of any type, mallards, Canada Geese, hummingbirds, bats in the evenings, frogs, snakes salamanders, newts, land snails, stick bugs, Luna moths, as many fireflies as there are stars in the night sky, fishers. What have I missed here? I have never seen a skunk for some odd reason…everything else lives here, even a few farm rats, field mice, moles, star nosed moles and some rare and tiny shrews that you almost never see and the very clandestine hummingbird butterfly that has clear wings! And yes when I mow the lawn it takes two days because I go slow enough for everything to move away from the mower! It drives my hubby crazy since I use “the good mower” and I can go much faster he tells me. Not the least of my delights in this whole experience is the fact that my daughter ALWAYS finds something of interest in the yard, some “weed” or some animal, she catches frogs and salamanders and worms…she finds the hidden Jack in the pulpits and she picks the wild strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries and jewelweed a small orange orchid-like flower that grows rampant in my yard (by the way jewel weed is supposed to be a balm for poison Ivy, which I also have plenty of, but in late summer when jewel weed has formed its seed pods they are great fun for children because if you touch the seed pod it explodes the seed out to broadcast it awesome fun in that even for an adult!…and they make a lovely cut flower as well). We have wild carrots, they look like Queen Anne’s Lace but with a few dark petals in the center. There are ample dandelion leaves, that we could eat, as well as fiddle heads in the spring. I will send you a picture of that pathway when it blooms Anna. There’s so much out there! Stop, take a look at it, enjoy it! If you really feel the absolute need to keep up with the Jones’ then I say do that in the front yard and let your backyard go wild! You will be amazed at the wildlife that such a place attracts!
Anna@Green Talk says
Your home sounds like so much fun. I love reading about your adventures. That is what life is suppose to be about.
Michele Elise says
It is Anna! …and I’m grateful for it! I’ve filled my camera. I’ll empty it soon and send you the good pictures if nothing else than to allow you to breathe a sigh of relief from the world…lol. Anna it is ALWAYS a pleasure when I hear from you! Keep up your fantastic work! I have a great lot of respect for what you are doing!
Anna@Green Talk says
Michele, let me know when you have some pictures. Would love to post. Anna
Not sure about killing trees with mulch ,I mulch mine heavy here in Reno where it gets extremely cold and they have been mulched with broken twigs, all sticks that I can break into small or medium size and I pile it quite deep. I didn’t remove it at all and had no problems. This year I decided to remove all my sticks and leaves and whatever else and ended up with lots of bug infestation. Maybe it was just coincidence and I might go back to the mulch but it is all natural twigs and things out of my yard so we shall see. Plus I also try to keep the trunk so it can breath. Also tried wood chips and read they suck nutrients away from all plants so removed all of that. Anyone try wood chips?
Anna@Green Talk says
Margie, I use wood chips in my beds since I find that the plants like it better. The wood chips dry out quicker so the plants aren’t just sitting in wet mulch. Love your twig idea though. And I agree, you want to let your trees breath. Thanks for positing. Anna
Woodworker Oliver says
Think I’ve been a “Mulch-erinator” hah!
2-3Inches? Well, come think of it, it’s quite obvious but…
Damn it. I’ve used too much mulch!
Thanks for sharing 🙂