In The Garden: Mulching can provide value to trees, shrubs

Posted: Aug. 21, 2011 10:41 am Updated: Nov. 29, 2014 8:15 am

With the continued dry weather, we'll look at ways to help save soil moisture.

Mulching isn't only to make your trees and shrub beds look pretty. Studies show that a mulched tree can grow faster than an unmulched tree. Mulching will add artistic flair to your landscape and help develop a good root system and a generally healthy tree by:

º Insulating soil.

º Retaining moisture.

º Blocking weeds.

º Keeping soil from compacting.

º Protecting against lawnmower damage.

However, applying mulch incorrectly -- like building a volcano of it around a tree trunk -- creates moist conditions that can lead to rot, insect invasion and girdling of the tree. The correct way to mulch is to create a moat along the edges of the tree ring and don't bank it up against the trunk.

There are two basic types of mulch: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches, derived from plant material, decompose to enrich and improve the soil. The most popular mulch for both weed control and longevity is shredded hardwood, chip or chunkbark.

Stone, pebbles, and plastic are types of inorganic mulches.

These are used mainly for color and texture changes and offer no value as breakdown products in the soil.

Mulches that break down slowly improve the soil and don't need to be reapplied as frequently.

In contrast, mulches that break down more quickly provide better soil benefits, but need to be applied more often.

Mulching can be done anytime but usually during spring or fall, after the first frost to reduce heaving, which breaks tree roots and leads to winter injury.

The ideal depth is 2 to 3 inches. If you're using shredded hardwood mulch, lay it about 4 inches deep to allow for settling.

Mulch laid too thickly prevents drying and leads to water-logged soil, particularly during wet seasons.

Email your gardening questions to or mail your questions to Sarah Fernandez, c/o Quincy Herald-Whig, 130 S. Fifth, Quincy, IL 62301.

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