Reed PughBad mulch and poor use = 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

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).

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

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

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.

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

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

 

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.

Through this post 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.

 

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

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 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

This is what the second tree looked like last year before being removed this week. “Dead Tree Standing” ©2014BDG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I promise an upbeat and positive post next time. It can’t still be cold……..

 

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Reed Pugh

About Reed Pugh

Horticulturist and landscape designer living in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. Reed is passionate about gardens and plants and loves writing about horticulture, plants, garden accoutrements, best garden practices and whatever else comes to his frenetic mind. He tries not to take himself too seriously but has been known to 'geek out' on occasion. Reed, and his company Barking Dog Gardens, can be found at Reeds Garden Ramblings

3 thoughts on “Bad mulch and poor use = dead plants

  1. I live in a park, well on the edge. Although its not regular any more, the Brisbane city council occasionally mulch our trees. I have to pull the mulch away from the trunk of every tree, slap bang against the bark, every tree and these boys are professionals or at least paid to do this, and they never replace trees they have removed, perhaps it’s better they don’t, we make better choices and do it.

    • Fcrowe on said:

      Seems to be a common occurrence – ‘gardeners’ employed by councils doing things that no gardener with a bit of knowledge would do. You’d think that a condition of employment would be some knowledge about the work that the job entails!

      • Not even some trained horticulturists know what’s right! I’m surprised how many books are still published with mulch recommendations that have been proven unnecessary or incorrect. Using 100mm (4 inch) of mulch was once advised but research several years ago has shown that’s way too thick and that 5-60mm (2″) is best. But if you look in a couple of recently published books, like ‘Dig Deeper’, you’ll find it still says 100mm.

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