Friday, April 4, 2014

Bad Mulch + Lousy Application = Dead Plants!

Time for my annual diatribe against bad quality mulch and poor (read ignorant) mulching practices.  When I say ignorant, I am referring to 'professionals' who are paid and should know better.

I know my last post was negative too, but that's what happens when it is April and you haven't had any warm spring days and you still have several feet of snow on the back deck.

This is one of my favorite pictures, a 15' Dogwood with
a 2+' high 'Volcano' of mulch applied last year.
I look forward to see how it flowers and leafs
out this year. ©2014 BDG

Let's start with a positive… properly applying good mulch to your gardens each spring is one of the best practices to keep your gardens healthy, happy and beautiful.  A good quality, natural mulch without dyes, that has been aged for a season or two, will quickly add organic material to your soil without robbing it of nutrients or moisture.  For a more detailed summary of mulches and proper mulching practice, read my post from last spring called, Reed Versus The Volcano (Tree Volcano That Is).


Basically, use good mulch and apply a thin layer each spring.  Two-three inches is more than enough in shrub borders and around trees, while half that is needed in perennial beds (compost is preferable to bark mulch here.)  By the end of the season, the mulch should be mostly broken down.  If you have left over mulch in your beds in the spring, rake it over to loosen it up and add a very thin layer of new mulch on top.  The key factor is that the mulch application does not raise the level of the bed year over year.    This 'volcanization' is what kills plants and trees over time.

Following are some images over recent years that track the demise of plants as a result of improper mulching and bad mulch.  The time differential is one year, that is how quickly mulch can suffocate and kill.

I promise an upbeat and positive post next week, it can't still be cold..


Last year's spring mulch application, a solid foot of
mulch was added.  ©2014BDG

This spring before mulching, half the plant is dead.
No question as a result of the mulch.  ©2014BDG





Last year after mulching.  You can see stump in
 background from tree that was removed a year earlier.
These trees have been 'Volcanized' for years.  Those are big
trees and the mulch is almost 2' high.  When the
trunk goes straight into the mulch and not
flaring out then it is WAY too deep ©2014BDG

This spring before mulching, they removed one tree and
left one unhappy tree.  ©2014BDG
This is what the second tree looked like
last year before being removed this
week.  "Dead Tree Standing"
©2014BDG

1 comment:

  1. Excellent (and very necessary) post. I think to most folks "mulch is mulch is mulch." Nothing can be farther from the truth. You are dead on in calling out "professionals" who clearly are not. It is unbelievable how little a lot of them seem to know about the PURPOSE of doing things properly or even about plants that have been around for years.

    Some good advice: Don't just go along with whatever a landscaper tells you. A quick google brush up on whatever you want done will help you to weather any BS that may be thrown your way. Ask "why" and don't accept any answers that seem overly dismissive. These fly-by-nighters make bona fide professionals' jobs much harder and erode a customer's trust in an already declining industry.

    Appreciate your post, Reed. I had a mind to do a similar one.

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