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The Benefits of Mulching and How to Properly Apply to Your Trees

Written by Nick Porter, Field Arborist II

If you want to give your trees the proper care and protection to survive and thrive, then mulching is a great way to do that. But there’s more to it than simply throwing down a pile of wood chips around the trunk. To ensure your trees get the best treatment, it’s important to understand the benefits of mulching and how to properly apply mulch to the trees.

The Benefits of Mulching

Adding mulch to your trees can provide many benefits. What exactly is mulching? Mulching is the process of covering the soil around a tree preferably with organic materials such as hardwood chips. This layer acts like a protective blanket that prevents weeds from growing, retains moisture in the soil, and moderates the temperature. It also improves the underground environment by introducing beneficial micro-organisms into the soil, as well as providing slow-release nutrients to feed hungry roots. Mulching is an important part of tree care that can improve the health and extend their lifespan.

Mulch can be great at protecting the tree roots by helping guard against extreme temperatures that could otherwise be damaging. In colder climates, mulch acts like an insulation blanket, trapping heat in the soil and keeping the roots warm. While in hotter climates, mulch helps diffuse direct sunlight which can quickly cause overheating and water evaporation. Regulating temperatures around the root area, will reduce the stress on the trees and protect the micro-organisms that help your trees grow vigorously.

In addition to these benefits, mulching helps trees look more attractive by giving them a neat appearance that contrasts well with other plants in your garden or yard. Plus, it’s much easier to mow or weed eat around mulched areas and not damage the trees! Also, mulch will help direct fertilizer into the soil and down to the roots rather than being lost in runoff water.

How to Properly Mulch Your Trees

First, it’s important to use the right type of mulch. Using organic materials like hardwood chips is preferred versus inorganic materials because they break down slowly over time, releasing essential nutrients into the soil.

Second, an adequate amount of mulch needs to be applied. A two-to-four-inch layer is optimal and it’s important to evenly spread the mulch out to the edge of the canopy and if possible further. You should be able to see a thin layer on top of the soil but not too much where you can’t see any soil at all.

If your area has vehicles or heavy equipment then a deeper layer (up to six inches) will reduce soil compaction, helping protect the roots. After events in the area are complete, it is important to spread the mulch back to two to four inches. Too much mulch can prevent gas exchange and suffocate the root system.

Water the trees after mulching to help remove any trapped air out from under the mulch layer and ensure oxygen reaches the roots. Watering also helps with settling any dirt or debris that may have been stirred up during the application of laying down the mulch material. Remember that proper irrigation is essential! Overlooked watering cycles can be disastrous for newly planted or older trees, regardless of how much effort you have put into protecting them with layers of organic materials. Make sure to set up appropriate irrigation systems (or apply water by hand if needed) to maximize the benefits of your efforts!

Quick Summary of Mulching Do’s & Don’ts


  • Use organic materials such as compost and wood chips.
  • Apply the mulch at a depth of two to four inches, in hot and dry climates four inches might be necessary.
  • Spread the mulch in a circular pattern evenly around the tree with at least six inches of space between the mulch and the trunk.


  • Pile the mulch against the trunk of the tree – this encourages decay, rot, diseases, and pests! Important to keep at least 6 inches away from the trunk.
  • Put any kind of plastic sheeting around trees as it will act as a barrier between vital airflow reaching roots, which can potentially cause oxygen deprivation.
  • Use chemical fertilizers even though these products provide essential nutrients, it can be damaging if not used correctly, and may not produce the desired results that you’re looking for when caring for your trees.

Lastly, keep monitoring your trees regularly after applying mulch. Make sure there aren’t any signs of disease or pest infestations that could harm your trees if left unchecked. If there is anything unusual observed, act right away before it spreads further into other parts of your landscape or yard.

By understanding the basics of mulching, you can ensure that your trees get the best treatment possible. When done properly, mulching can be an incredibly rewarding activity for both you and your beloved trees. Not only will they thank you with vibrant foliage come springtime, but you’ll also enjoy knowing that you’re doing something beneficial for one of nature’s most important living beings – our majestic trees!

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