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 Concerning Mulch - PART TWO

 By Tammy Clayton

Copyright © 2005 Tammy Clayton

The use of shredded wood mulch exists for reasons unknown to many of us. It is true and a good point that the mulch does in fact control erosion in a new planting prior to the roots taking hold of the soil. The wood mulch does retain more moisture and insulate the roots from extreme temperatures. Therefore the addition of a mulch is in deed beneficial for a newly installed shrub and tree landscape. The truth is folks have been successfully growing landscapes and gardens for centuries prior to this modern innovation commonly known as shredded mulch. So the mulch is put down initially to aid the plants in adjusting to their new home with less setbacks and repercussions. But the renewal of mulch is where the problems seem to begin.

Firstly there should never be more than 3 inches of shredded wood mulch applied after the installation of new plants. Some seem to think that more is better, this is not true of mulch. Exceeding 4 inches holds too much moisture and can cause plants to decline from rot and even die because the soil cannot breathe or soak up warmth from the sun to rid itself of excess moisture that may be present at times. Incidentally, the presence of mushrooms in a lawn or planting bed is totally due to decomposing wood matter. Whether mulch mixed with soil or an old tree stump’s roots that reside beneath the current lawn. Rotting wood and moisture have always caused mushrooms to grow. It is best if one is to cultivate mushrooms to plan ahead and cultivate those that are edible and cut down on the grocery bill rather than those that just make a mess in the landscape

What happens to all those additional layers of mulch you add to the beds because you like the “fresh” look it gives you yard? Perhaps first it would be best to ask yourself, what happened to the FIRST layer of mulch. The same thing that happens on the floor of the forest. Over time, every leaf, twig and fallen limb decomposes to replenish the soil available on the forest floor. The very same thing is happening in your planting beds...the mulch becomes soil. When the pretty mulch has disappeared a nice young man in a uniform appears after a phone call and puts a nice thick new layer where you direct him to do so. The lumber company who made money on a waste product is very happy. The mulch company is happy because you paid you bill. The nice young man in the uniform is happy because he got paid. You are happy with the fresh new appearance of your yard. The one soul who is not questioned about this practice, is the one that is effects the most...the plants! Over time, this freshening of the mulch can cause unexplainable health problems.

On the side of a beer bottled we have a warning from the Surgeon General warning us not to operate automotive vehicles or heavy equipment and goes on to say that alcohol could cause health problems. Have you ever seen such a warning on a bag of mulch or the invoice you pay that nice young man from? While there is such a thing as natural death among plants, death without explanation is easily blamed as the trees cannot say:

"Hey! I am dying because I cannot breathe anymore because you have put way too much mulch around my trunk!"

Nope, no tree can scream HELP! They can’t tell you I need water, my toes hurt, its hot out here; they are helpless unless we know instinctively the problem. They can only get your attention if you WANT to hear what they have to say. Selective listening has serves no purpose when one deals with plants.

Where was I? Oh yes, this yearly freshening of the mulch in the beds...if you were a tree, you would see instantly why this is not a good thing. Trees have a natural breathing ring (as well as many types of shrubs and other woody plants) that develops right at the point of their trunk where their "stem" and the soil meet originally upon their sprouting.

When you pull a weed, properly extracting it from the soil, it is going to deposit dirt on top of the mulch. The more soil that is mixed with the wood mulch, the faster it will decompose and return to its’ previous state as soil. Remember what comes from the soil returns to the soil; it is a natural revolution no one can prevent.


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About the Author
Raised by a highly respected & successful landscape contractor in the metro Detroit area, Clayton wanted a career in anything but landscaping! Now an award-winning landscape designer, Clayton runs Flowerville Farms, a mail-order nursery in Michigan. Read more at

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