Got Nature? Blog

Image of Volcano mulching around the base of the tree

Figure 1: Volcano mulching around the base of the tree. Photo credit Lindsey Purcell.

Purdue Landscape Report: It’s that wonderful time of year again where temps are rising, life is coming back into the landscape, and people are thinking about how to improve the urban canopy around them.  Well, maybe not that specifically, but we have the urge to plant trees.  Whether it’s for Earth Day or Arbor Day or you just enjoy the act of planting, one of the hot topics is getting trees into the ground.  That’s not what I’m here to talk about today, though.

As much as I love assisting communities with their greening efforts, getting the right tree in the right place, planting is not the only way to help grow the canopy around you.  One of the topics that can be neglected is maintaining trees from previous plantings.  Often, trees get placed in the ground, they are mulched, watered, and staked, then left on their own to make it in the world.  New trees can take about 2-5 years to become established in their new homes and they could require assistance from us for much longer to thrive.  Luckily, there is a simple activity to do assist trees, young and old.

Just like when they were placed in the ground, trees still benefit from mulch.  Reapplying mulch benefits trees in multiple ways.  It’s a natural way to prevent weeds and grass competing in the root zone and adds a protective buffer against mechanical damage from mowers and weed eaters.  It will also help to maintain moisture levels in the soil as we transition into the hotter summer months.  When applying new mulch, don’t worry about removing the old layer.  It’s working its way into the soil around the tree adding organic matter, improving the quality of the soil.

Image of correct application of mulch

Figure 2: Correct application of mulch. Photo Credit John Bonkowski.

Add enough mulch so there is a 2–3-inch layer sloping away from the tree with at least a 3–5-foot radius around the stem (older, larger trees can benefit from larger mulch rings).  No volcano mulching (Figure 1), make sure you also have around a 1-2-inch gap between the stem and the start of the mulch ring (Figure 2) to prevent unwanted root growth above ground and rot from excess moisture on the stem.   Continuing this practice every year can help maintain soil moisture levels, while enriching the soil around your tree, maintaining a safety zone, and adding a nice aesthetic.

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The Purdue Landscape Report
Purdue Landscape Report Facebook Page
Find an Arborist website, Trees are Good, International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)
Tree Installation: Process and Practices, The Education Store
Planting Forest Trees and Shrubs in Indiana, The Education Store
Planting Your Tree Part 1: Choosing Your Tree, Video, Purdue Extension – Forestry and Natural Resources YouTube Channel
Tree Defect Identification, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center
Tree wounds and healing, Got Nature? Blog
Tree Pruning Essentials, Publication & Video, The Education Store
Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, The Education Store
Tree Risk Management, The Education Store
Why Is My Tree Dying?, The Education Store
ID That Tree, Purdue Extension-Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube playlist
Subscribe to Purdue Extension-FNR YouTube Channel

Ben McCallister, Urban Forestry Specialist
Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources


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