Mulch is all right in its rightful place
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 8:18 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
What is it with this obsession for mulch? And here we’re primarily talking about the shredded bark that has come to be a generic term for mulch.
I mean, mulch is all right in its place. That is to say, not piled in volcanoes around the base of mature trees. And not spread by the trailer loads into black oceans of shredded bark over endless acres of earth that could be put to ornamental plants to more esthetic result. That’s just my opinion, and obviously others prefer the mulchy look.
It is good for the “landscapers” and sawmills. The latter have to do something with the mountains of bark left as a by-product of their business. Why not sell it?
But where is mulch’s place? In my case, I use it in relative dibbles and dabs, say around newly set azaleas or other things that need succoring and protecting from drought, heat and cold. On our four acres, perhaps the equivalent of a half pickup load is used in any given year.
New beds, indeed, need some protection. A worked up perennial or annual bed, for instance, can use a temporary and light covering of bark mulch, but be warned it can, when applied too heavily, smother fledgling perennials that have not yet got the bit between their teeth.
Then too, bark mulch (and some others, notably wood chips) can deplete nitrogen levels as it breaks down.
Some studies have shown otherwise, but I have noted yellowing leaves from acid-loving plants when heavy applications of bark were applied, then seen considerable recovery when ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate was applied.
Back to the volcanoes. I have preached on this before, but it has had no more effect than admonitions against the sin of tree topping. The piles are seen hither and yon around even huge oaks, up to two feet deep. What the heck for? Looks? Ha ha.
Mulch piled against the trunks of trees attacks their well-being from the bottom as sure as topping destroys their upper extremities. Mulch holds moisture. That’s one reason it is valuable in times of drought.
But moisture held against the bole of a tree does no good and much harm. All that moisture encourages rotting of bark and eventual reduction of sap flow upward. This conceivably could result in eventual death of even a mature tree.
Young trees, indeed, benefit from mulching. A newly set specimen can use a ring of mulch several inches thick and, say, three feet wide, around the trunk to keep mowers away and hold moisture to the roots until they are established.
The caveat here is not to let the mulch touch the trunk. Keep an open donut hole in the area of the bole some six inches in diameter. That way, free flow of air is assured.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Too much of a good thing is too much.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 4.5.11
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path