Nourishing Your Trees with Organic Mulch
Trees in their natural habitat exist in forests where the ground is covered with a continually renewing layer of decaying material. For a tree to thrive in your yard, the best method of nourishment is to provide organic mulch that degrades quickly for easy absorption.
Organic mulch may take the form of ground up yard debris as well as yard service debris or chipped branches and leaves. Using these materials provides the added bonus of tidying up your yard while recycling debris into usable material.
Once you have decided on your type of mulch, your next step is to decide how you will lay it down to best benefit your tree. Avoid using a weed mat, as these and other fabric/plastic laid beneath organic mulch removes many benefits by placing barrier between soil and mulch. Your goal when applying mulch is to enrich the soil with nutrients from broken-down organic materials. Fabric prevents beneficial organisms like earthworms from proliferating in the soil, and materials such as polyethylene plastic block both air and water and can severely deplete the tree if the root zone is covered.
Even with the proper mulch, area awareness is key. The larger the mulched area, the better. A five-foot mulch ring around an eight-inch diameter tree, for instance, provides a good baseline. However, it is in the best interest of the tree to gradually increase the mulched area. The best way to accomplish this is to simply lay down mulch over the turf surrounding your previously-mulched area. As the turf beneath the new mulch degrades, it too will turn to rich material that will benefit your tree further.
For those concerned about pests that may live in mulch and spread throughout the yard, it is worth noting that most of these organisms are insects that prey on other insects and serve to recycle the very matter that is nourishing your tree. However, if you are concerned, take measures to ensure that the mulch you lay around your tree does not touch the foundations of your house and that bare, dry ground stretches 12 to 18 inches from your foundation to the mulched area. In addition, keep landscape shrubs back at least three or four feet from the foundation, where the roof overhang should keep the underlying soil dry. Do not leave organic refuse or soiled garbage that would attract small critters away from the mulch and into your home or garage.
Many home owners take issue with mulch due to rumors that it decreases soil nitrogen. While there is no conclusive evidence that mulch permanently depletes the soil in this way, nitrogen levels can be depleted temporarily while the organic material decomposes. While this process can last from weeks to months depending on soil temperatures, the nitrogen in use during the decomposition process is returned to the soil once the cycle is complete, where it will again benefit your tree.
Mulching is one of the most essential ways to care for your tree, and by using organic mulch, you turn yard debris into a precious resource for the continued health and beautification of your yard.