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Tree Talk - Metropolitan Forestry Services

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April 26, 2016

Top 5 Reasons to Mulch in the Spring

Spring brings flowers, bright budding leaves, storms – and the smell of fresh mulch. It’s finally getting warmer, and many of us are itching to get out and work (play) in our gardens.

Here are the top five reasons to mulch in the spring.

1. Mulch Insulates the Soil and Retains Moisture

Think of mulch like a blanket: it covers roots, moderating soil temperatures and moisture levels. As our St. Louis area springs have historically erratic weather swings, mulch will protect and equalize the soil conditions, effectively decreasing stress on your plants’ roots. Additionally, plant roots stay cooler and more resilient to summer heat and drought so they can thrive throughout the growing season. Insulated soil doesn’t lose as much water from evaporation as unprotected soil does. As a result, you may be able to water less. NOTE: this is not an excuse not to water your trees; always check the soil during hot, dry summer months and water when needed. Here’s a watering guide.

2. Mulch in Spring to Suppress Weeds

A 3-4 inch layer of mulch can smother spring-sprouting weeds. When prepare your gardens for the growing season, we can also apply a pre-emergent that ceases weed germination – literally nipping them in the bud!

3. Mulch Provides Nutrients for Your Plants

In the forest, fallen leaves and decomposing material provide the best soil environment a plant could hope for. We can mimic that benefit by spreading mulch in the spring. As mulch slowly breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil throughout the growing season, giving roots a healthy boost. Research shows plants that are mulched develop finer root hairs and thus can absorb more water and nutrients. As a result, plants are better equipped to defend themselves against pests and diseases and be more resilient to other environmental stressors.

4. Mulch Can Reduce Damage and Soil Compaction

  1. Mulch prevents damage. Mulch forms a barrier between tree trunks and grass to minimize the chance of equipment damage. Lawnmowers and string trimmers can wound tree trunks and branches, which may sever the tissue that conducts the flow of nutrients and water. Wounds also leave openings for insects and fungus to enter.
  2. Mulch prevents and relieves soil compaction.  Spreading a wide ring of mulch creates an implied barrier, which reduces the likelihood of human traffic that would compact the soil surrounding the roots. Also, mulch provides an ideal environment for beneficial insects and microorganisms, whose activity creates more pore space in the soil which can relieve compaction.

5. And Finally, Mulch Makes Your Garden Look Good!

Fresh mulch in the landscape brings cohesion to your planting beds. A good edge between your plants and grass adds a sharp crisp, clean border.  Shapes such as squares and circles or sweeping edges further define your garden style. Cover lighting wires.

One Final Word

Whatever you do, DO NOT volcano mulch! What’s that? It’s when mulch is piled up against tree trunks. These mulch volcanoes have many negative implications:

  • Promote excessive soil moisture that can cause root rot and decay
  • Encourage girdling roots
  • Increase vulnerability to pests and disease infestations

When you are mulching, keep the trunk exposed to the point that you can see it tapering outward. Leave a few inches, then spread a 3-4 inch deep ring over the root zone. We call this “donut mulching”. We like donuts.

Give us a call for any of your planting, bed maintenance, and mulching needs.

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