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Mulching Around Trees – The Why and The How

Why you might mulch around trees

Existing trees don’t really need mulch, but there are three good reasons to mulch one anyway:

  1. Aesthetics – it serves as sort of a frame around the base of the tree.  It’s tidy.
  2. Weed control – weeds are difficult to remove around the base of a tree unless you hand weed; this is impractical in a large landscape
  3. Protection – if there aren’t any weeds or grass near the trunk, you won’t whack it with the lawnmower, string weeder, and so on.  This was, I believe, the original reason that commercial landscapers began mulching around trees. Especially on trees with thin bark (e.g., Japanese maples and beech) you can cause a lot of damage just by banging into it.  This is sometimes called “lawnmower blight” in a rare flash of humor from plant pathologists.

How to mulch

Don’t Do Mulch Volcanoes

If you do want to mulch established trees, this is how should it be done:

  1. Keep the mulch away from touching the trunk by 4 to 6 inches.  Mulch that actually touches the trunk encourages damage by voles (mouse-like rodents) that may chew on the bark under cover of the mulch, and encourages fungal diseases because the bark of the tree is continually wet from the mulch.  In other words, don’t copy the “mulch volcanoes” you see sometimes done by landscape crews, where they pile it up against the trunk of the tree.
  2. Apply the mulch so it’s level, and no deeper than three inches.

This will protect your trees from the lawn mower and help prevent weeds, while creating an attractive accent at the base each tree.

by Larry Hurley

Photo credit: Extension Horticulture.





Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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