Forget March Madness and Embrace Mulch Madness

March 23, 2018
by Nicholas Benecke

Forget March Madness and Embrace Mulch Madness

When you’re taking down and maintaining trees on a daily basis you end up with a lot of woodchips…sometimes too many. That’s why 3D Tree Care is giving away our unneeded woodchips, which can now be used to improve the health of the trees, shrubs, and soil! Let us explain.

Woodchips are commonly used as a topdressing around trees and in gardens but what exactly is the big deal? Sure mulch looks nice, and everyone knows it helps keep weeds at bay, but what exactly is the magic of the mulch? When used as mulch, woodchips help improve the health of soil as they gradually decompose adding organic carbon to the soil surface, and by retaining moisture which would otherwise be lost to our semi-arid environment. The CSU Cooperative extension even says it can help reduce the need of irrigation by as much as 50%, saving you time, money, and hair which would otherwise be pulled. It also helps reduce soil erosion caused by rain drops which detach soil particles when they land. This means your dirt will stay where it belongs, in your yard.

All in all the new environment mulch creates is perfect for large strong roots to establish, and for insects and other microorganisms to make their homes in. Wait a second now, aren’t arborists usually the people suggesting ways to get rid of bugs? Well this may be true for borers, scale insects, and a few defoliators but not all bugs are created equal. Worms might be obvious but you may be surprised that nematodes, parasitic wasps, and many beetles should also be welcomed visitors to your yard. Worms and other burrowing insects till your yard for free, and while they move around in your soil they poop. Ewww… now why would anyone want such a thing! Well, these “worm castings” are actually little nutrient packages which your plant can make use of anytime unlike store bought fertilizer which washes away when you water, and if overapplied can lead to root burn. Not only will using mulch save you money on fertilizer, it can save the planet by keeping fertilizer out of our water. Something as “simple” as mulch can improve your yard for years to come, making your trees more resistant against insects, disease, and weather related stresses.

Now we know you probably can’t contain your excitement about woodchips as your thinking about all they ways you will be using them this season, but let’s not get overzealous!

Adding too much mulch can lead to roots developing in the “mulch volcano” [Que sinister music], where there is adequate water and air for roots to grow. Not only do these surface roots look bad they are also more susceptible to temperature extremes and drought stress which can influence the health of your trees! Now there are many more reasons why a mulch volcano is never a good idea.

  1. Plain and simple, it is ugly
  2. Moisture can accumulate on the bark leading to disease spread and rot
  3. It can interfere with natural trunk taper which makes trees more susceptible to the high Colorado winds we are all too familiar with
  4. Air may not be able to reach roots right below the soil surface, suffocating your poor tree

Now I know you’re dying to know all the intricacies of mulch application so let’s not keep you waiting.

In general mulch should be spread starting 6 inches away from the trunk and as far as the overlying crown of the tree extends. This will keep weeds and grass from competing with your tree while avoiding moisture build up along the base of the trunk. This helps prevent moisture loving diseases from establishing keeping your tree as strong and resilient as can be. Mulch can also add as a protective barrier against pesky lawnmowers and weed wackers which can tear up the roots that poke above your lawn. Now as much as you may disdain those roots for all the times you may have tripped over them, protecting them is important for preserving the health of your tree. After all root damage can open a tree up to fungal and bacterial infections which can overwhelm an already stressed tree.

Now for the harder part. Mulching depth is a classic goldilocks conundrum, too much means not enough air will reach the top roots and moisture may accumulate leading to root rot; too little and moisture will escape leading to drought stress symptoms and weeds will sprout and compete with your tree. Since the chips we produce are larger, they can be added in greater excess than smaller chips you might buy at a garden store. Typically a depth of 3-4” is enough to serve its purpose but this can change depending on the soils you are covering up. Heavily compacted and clay soils may actually retain excess moisture if too much mulch is used and this can lead to problems with root rot. To make it simple, if your soil stays wet reduce the mulching depth.

Now with great mulch comes great responsibility, remember these simple rules and your trees will get that extra love they deserve this season. Happy Mulching!