Mulch is a staple in many Chicagoland gardens and landscapes, but the real purpose of mulch is often incredibly misunderstood. If you think mulch is utilized as weed control, or perhaps as a way to make landscaping look more appealing and refined, you will be surprised to learn these facts. The real uses and importance of mulch are much different than these. Below, you can learn more about mulch and why you should apply it to the base of your trees in early fall.
What Mulch Is Not
Despite the common belief that mulch is used to prevent weed growth, this is not the case at all. There’s a very good chance that you (or your landscaping company) spend some time fighting weeds that grow between gaps in your driveway or sidewalk. If weeds can grow in those locations, they can surely grow through soft organic matter, like mulch.
It would be incorrect to say that mulch is not a decoration, because it very much is. Numerous colors can be found at your favorite home stores; including red, brown, green, black, blue, and various other hues. This can create focal points in your yard, separate individual flowerbeds, and much more. With that said, mulch is not designed to prevent weed growth, but it can improve aesthetic appeal a great deal. This is not mulch’s primary use, however.
What Mulch Is Meant to Do
Three outstanding benefits of mulch for trees and shrubs include:
- Providing Protection to Roots: When gazing upon a tree, you can tell what’s happening above-ground. You can observe the tree through its many stages, watching it grow from a sapling to a towering giant. What you cannot see is the root system. Now, imagine years of soil compaction around the tree’s roots, and you can easily see how a tree may not get the nutrients it needs. By removing the soil above the roots and laying down loose mulch instead, the entire root system – and therefore the tree – is protected.
- Providing Protection to Tree Trunks, Bark, and Stems: Mulch can damage tree bark over time. Be careful not to make a huge pile around the base of a small tree. Tree mulch retains moisture, and it will ultimately cause the bark, stems, and trunk to rot. Piling mulch on top of a tree’s root system is no different than planting the tree far too deeply in the ground.
- Defining the Edges of Beds: Finally, mulch is important for defining the edges of planting beds, as it allows excellent definition without incredibly deep cuts and edging that can cause lawn “scalping” during mowing season.
The Most Important Reason for You to Mulch Trees in Fall
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, a revered expert in tree care, proper mulching offers five very important benefits. First, it insulates the soil around the tree, which protects the roots from the cold of winter. Second, mulch retains rainfall and any moisture that may fall during autumn. This will supply a tree’s roots with moisture, even during the arid winter. Third, mulch slows the growth of weeds (to a degree), which reduces competition for nutrients and moisture. Finally, mulching your tree or garden will prevent the soil from being compacted and choking out the roots. It can even help you avoid damage to your (or you landscaper’s) lawnmower. (We appreciate it!)
As you can see, mulch is a highly misunderstood landscaping tool that is crucial to the health and longevity of trees in more ways than one. Mulching your trees in early fall will provide all of these benefits, and provide some aesthetic appeal on the ground – at least until the snow begins to fall.