"B'ah! I'm suffocating!" says the tree trunk with volcano mulching

How to Mulch Around Trees: Spread Evenly!

Proper mulch care, courtesy of Madison Tree Care and Landscaping

Volcano Mulching (BAD) versus Proper Mulching (GOOD). Image courtesy of Madison Tree Care and Landscaping

It is ideal to apply a 2”-to-3” layer of mulch around a tree that extends out to its drip line. This layer of mulch does a few things including:

  • Prevents weeds
  • Retains moisture
  • Maintains consistent soil temperatures
  • Provides a nice buffer between equipment (mowers, weed wackers, etc) and tree trunks
  • Gives a finished look to the landscape

"B'ah! I'm suffocating!" says the tree trunk with volcano mulchingHowever, take care not to cover the base of the tree’s trunk and its root flare with mulch. The sapling in this photo was not mulched properly. It was “volcano mulched,” meaning the mulch was piled in a volcano shape right up to the bark of the trunk. If you pile mulch against the trunk, it will hold moisture there and may lead to root rot. It can also lead to the tree sending up secondary roots, which are weaker roots that will likely get zapped by the sun, frozen by frost, or strangle the tree.  Not good. If you want to meet someone who hates volcano mulching with a passion, meet Ken Druse, a guru of gardening who has tons of tips to help you flourish in your landscape.

"Ahh, my trunk can breathe," says the saplingInstead, mulch your trees starting a few inches out from the trunk out to the drip line or beyond, as far as an 8-foot diameter. The root system of the tree extends far beyond its drip line. In a forest, that entire system benefits from naturally-occurring mulch.

Also, if you have old mulch around your trees, it may need to be raked to ensure it’s not matted. Otherwise, if it’s thick and matted water and air may not be able to seep through to the tree’s root system. Mulch that’s matted can also become weed-ridden.

AFTER - mulch spread around mature treesBEFORE - mulch ready to be spreadOrganic mulches usually need to be replenished a few times a year to ensure the right depth of mulch (roughly 3 inches) protects and nourishes your trees.

Check it out: In this video these guys identify mulch volcanos that are suffocating/disabling the trees, and save a few by removing a primary layer of mulch, then airblasting away the extraneous mulch, trimming away the secondary root structure, and re-applying a 2” layer of mulch (not next to the trunk!) and out to the drip line.

BONUS: Need tips on how to plant your trees or shrubs?

See our easy 4-step diagram to planting trees and shrubs.

9 replies
  1. Ivy Baker
    Ivy Baker says:

    This is some really good information about mulch. I just bought my first home and it is a bit of a fixer upper. So, I like that you pointed out that you should renew organic mulches a few times a year. That does seem like something I should consider when picking out a mulch to use in my yard.

  2. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    A helpful read on mulching around trees. There are so many benefits to mulching (everything you mentioned) and it’s not that hard to do either. I’m planning to properly mulch many of the trees on my property and I’ll be keeping your tips in mind. I was actually looking at other articles for ideas on how to landscape around trees (including hard landscaping techniques) – this page (https://carveyourcreation.com/how-to-landscape-around-trees) doesn’t have many images, but they do talk about establishing style and focusing on shape among other things. Evidently, the approach for landscaping around trees will differ depending on the style of the garden. I hope you don’t mind me sharing the link (it’s not my site). Thanks for the writeup!

  3. shari heinz
    shari heinz says:

    I think of Mulch about my trees and shrubs as a NO MOW zone. It helps cover exposed roots and provides for a not Fert zone too. Best when done properly. AND yes the forest trees have mulch, their leaves and other debris that is natural there.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] can use wood chips, grass clippings, chopped leaves, and compost can be used as mulch. To properly mulch a tree, apply a layer from the drip line or at least four inches away from the tree trunk. Mulch does not […]

  2. […] the trunk to decay. Harvest Power provides some very helpful images for how to mulch around trees here and This Old House has a great video tutorial […]

  3. […] If you look at trees in the forest, they don’t need mulch. There isn’t mulch around any of those trees and they do just fine. Mulch around tree base, mulch serves no purpose for established trees other than what some people see as decorative, and many ill-advised modern mulching practices are real tree killers.  […]

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