In a natural ecosystem, all organic matter is recycled. Dead plant matter is broken down and provides food for living plants. In the Fall, trees and shrubs shed their leaves to create their own mulch. Layers of fallen leaves decompose and enrich the soil by providing food for the soil's organisms, which in turn create compost that provides nutrients (fertilizer) for the plants.
This process builds the topsoil layer and the soil's ecosystem, both of which are essential for healthy plants and for absorbing storm water more effectively. The leaf layer prevents rain from eroding the topsoil, regulates soil temperature, shades plant roots, and preserves moisture by preventing the sun from drying out the soil. A layer of leaves around trees, shrubs and in plant beds provides crucial habitat for insects to over-winter their eggs.
In the Spring, adding hardwood mulch around trees, shrubs and ornamental plants can provide more material to continue the cycle of decomposition as the weather warms.
Check out the Casey Trees Blog for a demonstration on how to mulch.
Mulching is Good
- Mulching provides nutrients for soil organisms and plants.
- Mulching reduces the need for supplemental fertilizers.
- Mulching builds soil and reduces soil compaction.
- Mulching preserves soil moisture.
- Mulching shades plant roots and regulates soil temperature.
- Mulching – particularly fallen leaves left whole in plant beds – provides habitat for insects.
Mulching is Easy
- Apply mulch evenly to a maximum depth of 3 to 4 inches.
- Keep mulch at least 3 to 4 inches away from a tree's trunk and root flare. No mulch volcanos!
- Mulch in a circle out to the edge of the widest branch (dripline). This mulch “donut” area will expand over time as a tree or shrub grows to maturity.
- Put mulch directly on soil not on top of plastic or fabric landscaping cloth. These materials create a barrier to the decomposition process and interfere with exchange of gases between soil, roots and the air.
- Mulching is for lawns, too! Use a mulching mower to cut grass and leaves into tiny pieces so that they will break down fast; leave them in place to create a healthier lawn that needs no fertilizers.