View Full Version : Mulching by DUMMIES

01-08-2003, 09:21 AM
An earlier post reminded me to mention something that apparently is not understood or is perhaps ignored in the spirit of selling more mulch than is necessary....

We see it everywhere....guys in the Spring heaping huge piles of mulch on top of piles of mulch already around a plant/tree.

Between the snowstorms a guy called me to come look at why his trees aren't growing ...he thought maybe they were sick or dying. He has 6 ornamental pears...these are fairly fast growers...around the base of each tree....and I'm not exaggerating was about 12 inches of prior multiple years of mulch...asked if he minded if I dug way down to the roots...told him likely the tree roots are strangling the tree because of lack of air and water and trying to get to the surface...when I got underneath, there was a 3 inch diameter root that was in the process of circling the trunk...looked like a big snake....in time this will kill the tree...he was amazed at what he saw...he said every year for 5 years his landscraper would pile mulch on them and tell him that was good for the tree....now he knows different...

THis is something I just wanted to pass along in the spirit of us all trying to be as professional as possible...2 inches of mulch is plenty...3 at the most

01-08-2003, 11:03 AM
Good point, GarPA.

Many homeowners (or probably most) aren't aware that too much mulch can be just as detrimental (or worse) than not having enough mulch. Point like you said...nutrients (including air) cannot get to the root zone if there is a foot or more of mulch covering it.

01-08-2003, 06:14 PM
Amen! Although my core business is selling mulch, I try to discourage people from putting more than 3", especially if the mulch particle size is fine (small). I would much rather see people spread the mulch out over a larger area to cover as much of the tree and plant roots as possible.

Another thing about spreading the mulch out - there is no telling how many times I come upon a row of small trees and bushes that are individually mulched! I try to reccomend people making this into large bed areas if possible - cuts down on trying to trim around each individual plant each week, plus extending the mulch will help the roots (as long as it's not too deep). As far as appearance, it makes the property more uniform, flowing, and professional. Just think of how much time is spent trimming around these things! Check out this thread I started a while back:


mdb landscaping
01-08-2003, 06:52 PM
i know what you mean. for some reason, a lot of the local restaurants always have the mulch mounded way up around the trees. I dont know if it states in the contract for a certain amount of mulch each year, but it seems most chilis and bertuccis restaurants are like that.

01-08-2003, 10:12 PM
We refer to these as 'Mulch Volcanos'. Part of the problem is after people see them, they imitate the mistake, since it was on a professionally-maintained site. Also, failing to put de-mulching into the contract spec. means no money/time to do it so its ignored ane the volcano keeps growing. Our extension service even has a flyer in English & Spanish on this topic.

01-09-2003, 01:47 AM
An additional thing to keep in mind when it comes to applying too much mulch... is that it will encourage the development of adventisous roots. When those start coming around you have problems. Also this may kill off your lower roots, which is your real root system. On top of that, it will keep the bark moist which creates a favorable environment for insects and diseases to infect the tree or shrub.

David Gretzmier
01-16-2003, 05:57 PM
Apparently this mistake is running rampant, even among huge parks that should know better...or do they? At Disneyworld, Universal, MGM, Bushe (sp) gardens, I can't help but think with all the horticulture experts these parks must hire, that maybe there is something good about mulch volcanos, or everybody is stupid. Dave g

01-16-2003, 07:34 PM
Shame on me for saying this....but I'll bet the prime reason for this is REVENUE/SALES driven.....now we all often piss and moan about scrubs/morons/yahoos/ in our business.....but just this past weekend my wife and I had dinner at an Olive Garden. THis property is taken care of from 'scaping to mowing by the largest company in our area....well "respected".....and the mulch volcanoes were ridiculous....this company is not a "scrub" or by no means a lowballer....they charge a very good price....but stunting or killing plants because of being able to sell a few more yards of mulch is frankly worse than lowballing or "scrubbing"....why? because they know better and choose to disregard the proper care of their clients valuable plantings....pardon my rant......but this makes me nuts when I see it.....all the bad guys in our business are not working out of the back of a station wagon........

Tim Canavan
01-18-2003, 07:01 PM
educate your clients and not the idiots who messed up in the first place. You see this all over.

Again, great post.

01-21-2003, 02:36 PM
I replenish 1/3 each season if they are to be mulched. If they had 3 yds applied last summer then this year it would be 1 yd spread thin as a topcoat.

More often than not we are able to re-fluff the exisiting product to cut back on expenses. prime example would be one we did last summer.

This was an extensive span of mulch beds for a client that had paid his former LMO to put down mulch upon mulch upon mulch to banked areas over the past few years.

All we did was pull it back and spread it out to even up the areas, and it looked like it had been done only a week or two ago. He saved a TON of money on his bill and we got a 2 acre fall re-seeding job at his house.

01-22-2003, 12:58 PM
When we originally bid a property, its for a specific amount of mulch. Each time we go back in the spring we charge them to mulch the beds. They don't need to know How much mulch it is!:angel:

T. Matthews
01-24-2003, 02:27 PM
Hey there landscape buddies,

Here is a couple of things for ya:

I make it manditory that every other year my customers have the old mulch removed prior to the new mulch going down. I normally charge half the amount of the cost for the new stuff.

Also you must remember that mulch is good/bad. Yes it does put nutrients back into the soil, but not before it take it out.

In other words microbs take the nitrogen out of the soil and use it for engery to break down the mulch and as they digest it then it puts the nutrients back in the soil.

Thats all,

T. Matthews

01-24-2003, 02:38 PM
Right on T Mathews...and colored mulch takes even more N out of the soil...just today told a customer in Spring this year its time to remove old mulch around the house and beds...she looked at me like I had an extra eyeball...then I explained that improper use of mulch is worse than no mulch at all....after all, mother nature does not apply scrap wood treated with chemicals to her plants....we humans invented this practice just like we Americans invented the "yard"

01-27-2003, 04:14 PM
Hang on a second, if you remove the old decayed mulch that has started to add to the nitrogen of the soil and add new mulch that is robbing the nitrogen don't you have to increase the fertilizer used? Why remove the old? Isn't it adding organic matter to the soil,and improving the soil? The leaves fall on the forest floor each year, it is never removed. Too much mulch is bad but I can't see removing the old mulch.

01-27-2003, 05:03 PM
Kermit....by the time multiple year old old mulch turns into concrete laying around the base of a plant , the "decomposition" benefits are neglible compared to the fact that the plant'tree/shrub is now being suffocated, deprived of water and nutrients.

Old, hard, thick mulch = potentially sick plants...period. I've seen it too many times where roots are coming to the surface and strangling the plant in their attempt to breathe and drink...

Leaves vs mulch= apples vs oranges

T. Matthews
01-27-2003, 05:18 PM
Hi Fellow Landscape buddies,

I have to say yes and no. The constant heaping on of the mulch year after year with out removing any is far more lethal to the tree than robbing it of a little N. Yes removing the mulch does take some of the N away, compared to the Natural Forest. Leaf litter breaks down a whole lot fast then tree bark (mulch) also you have far more vegetation in the forest than in the urban landscape to use up the N being broken down. Fertilizers should definitely be used when removing the old mulch.

Since we are on the subject of N and breaking down,
I have a little pet peeve.

Why do Landscapers bag the clippings on every job they do even in the hot dog days of summer?

I only bag my lawns for the first half of the springtime then I stop. I then allow the clippings to stay; the differance is unbelievable especially in the hot days of summer
Do grass clippings contribute to thatch?
No they decompose quickly leaving N and other beneficial nutrients for turf. Also it keeps the clippings from filling up dumpsites

What is thatch?
Thatch is an intermingled organic layer of dead and living shoots, stems and roots that develop between the green vegetation and the soil surface. Thatch has high lignin content and resists microbial breakdown.

01-27-2003, 06:45 PM
What are you using as mulch? Why does it get hard? I've never had mulch go hard

01-28-2003, 09:57 AM
I don't understand the annula removal of mulch. I have been mulching the same properties for 8 years now and have never had to remove mulch. The mulch I put down each year (1-2") has pretty much decomposed by the following year. Now I can say that for most of these accounts, when I first took over, I had to remove mulch from prior companies that loaded it on. I believe if you apply the proper amount of mulch there is no need to remove each year.

01-28-2003, 10:08 AM
I agree Scraper...my point was more about properties I take over that already have volcanoes from prior years...in most cases with properties I did last year,I just use the Echo with the tiller attachment and break it up b4 I put down 1 or 2 inches of new stuff...again my original post was about the HUGE piles we often see

01-28-2003, 10:41 AM
My post was more directed to Mr. Matthews' practice of removing mulch annually. Not to mention there is no way I could get some of my clients to cough up an additional $1,000 to remove mulch I layed the prior season for $2,000.

As I stated in my post, I too have had the problems when taking over a property from a prior LCO.

01-28-2003, 11:01 AM
Originally posted by T. Matthews

Since we are on the subject of N and breaking down,
I have a little pet peeve.

Why do Landscapers bag the clippings on every job they do even in the hot dog days of summer?


Very few LCOs in my area collect grass. Especially since more than a couple years ago the local dump stopped allowing grass clippings. I haven't collected grass in more than ten years, and that was for a small area of lawn that was right next to a pool (the grass grew right up to the pool for about 3/4 of the way around it).

I make an effort to point out to customers that "colored mulch" IS NOT mulch, but wood chips (at least all that I have seen). I think wood chips look terrible in a landscape, and are deterimental (sp?) to plants' health. I have some customers that use chips to save money (about half the cost of real mulch in my area), but I have two very wealthy customers that insist on using chips and it drives me bonkers.

Oh well.

01-28-2003, 11:35 AM
yep the colored stuff is nothing more than ground up pallets...b4 I put it down (black does make a nice appearance I must admit...doesn't turn crappy grey in 6 weeks) I do a plant feeding to offset the N being pulled out when this stuff finally starts to compost...use it on my own property and I have more nice specimens than I can count...have had no problems with it...knock on wood.

but lets be honest, at least in my area, the quality of "real" mulch/tan bark has been going down hill it seems more and more every year...you see it, you buy the "good stuff" and you can see wood in it that did NOT come straight from a tree....years ago I used to be able to buy Oak Bark...what nice stuff, stayed dark much longer, kind of expensive, but great stuff....cant find it anymore in my area....If I could buy pine bark big nuggets by the bulk, I;d do those ...no compaction, stay dark, but they do blow around a little...oh well....its not a perfect world is it

01-28-2003, 12:11 PM
What do you use for mulch? We typically ues cocoa bean shells (expensive) down to shredded cedar bark (cheap) we can get good deals on composted pine bark. What kind of mulch goes hard?

01-28-2003, 12:21 PM
Originally posted by GarPA
but lets be honest, at least in my area, the quality of "real" mulch/tan bark has been going down hill it seems more and more every year...you see it, you buy the "good stuff" and you can see wood in it that did NOT come straight from a tree....years ago I used to be able to buy Oak Bark...what nice stuff, stayed dark much longer, kind of expensive, but great stuff....cant find it anymore in my area....


What area of PA you in? You in Philly burbs? If so, I have noticed the same darn thing. Last year I bought what was supposed to be good "bark mulch" from an unnamed source in Delaware County whom I have bought from the past 10 years with no complaints. Looked good in freshly turned piles, but when it dried it was so light. I actually switched to the triple ground for the rest of my properties as it was darker and held its color longer. Excuse of mulch dealer was that there is less lumbering going pon thus less quality bark mulch. Saw some other properties in neihborhoods I service which was pretty nice, but never saw who put it down to find out where they got it. Hope this year is better...clients like that deep brown look. As for the black mulch...if someone wants it...I can usually convince them they don't. I have yet to install anything but the bark or shredded hardwood mulch.

01-28-2003, 01:40 PM
Scraper....I'm in the Harrisburg area...the reason I went to black was because I was so disgusted with the quality of the real stuff...this year my supplier is adding brown colored mulch..now has red and black...I;ve seen no plant problmes with the dyed stuff...been using it for a few years..here and there...now using it more...if I'm going to have to buy "crap" I'd sooner buy "dyed crap" if you get my drift....

01-28-2003, 03:42 PM
Originally posted by GarPA
...if I'm going to have to buy "crap" I'd sooner buy "dyed crap" if you get my drift....

I have to agree with that. The mulch around me has gone down in quality, and there is alot of wood chips in the "bark" mulch. I think the scarcity of good mulch maybe is not so much less tree work, but that everyone uses it now, so there is less to go around.

Alot of guys around me have gone to pre-ordering mulch, but not having it delivered until they actually need it. The last few years, when I've gone to pickup a load of mulch late in the season, a few suppliers have been completely sold out. 10+ years ago that would have been unheard of.

01-28-2003, 03:52 PM
Originally posted by Tvov
10+ years ago that would have been unheard of.

10+ years ago they couldn't even give the stuff away. Well maybe a few more than that, but it wasn't that long ago.

Mike Bradbury
02-10-2003, 10:53 AM
to suggest taking out old (decomposing) mulch and replacing it with new is in ANY way better for the plant!

02-10-2003, 11:35 AM
I'm surprised noone has suggested using an inorganic bed covering??? I usually design and suggest a 2 inch river rock as my bed covering... It's clean, acts as a solar collector to increase nightime temps, is heavy enough to be blown mostly clean, and will not need to be replaced...

02-10-2003, 12:15 PM
I agree. River Rock or whatever you call it is the best. It is mainenance free. I have it around my house and I would not have anything else. I do put black mulch around my trees though.

Mike Bradbury
02-11-2003, 02:53 AM
Originally posted by Clay
I'm surprised noone has suggested using an inorganic bed covering??? I usually design and suggest a 2 inch river rock as my bed covering... It's clean, acts as a solar collector to increase nightime temps, is heavy enough to be blown mostly clean, and will not need to be replaced...

But it also does nothing to improve the soil.

02-11-2003, 06:12 PM
A big problem, at least in my area, The lawn and landscape companies are self taught and they just go along with what they see. They know nothing about plants and how plants can suffocate. The mulch problem is big here and I'm trying to change the whole landscape lawn care industry in the area but it's an older commuity people are stuck ing there ways and because I'm only 27 they don't think I know what I'm talking about. Even though I have a degree in Horticulture. Anybody know how I can get people to listen?

02-11-2003, 07:47 PM
Since I'm the one who started this kind of offbeat thread, I'll chime in again...aside from the fact many of us here, are here, and keep being here on this site, is to not only get tips and ideas on better ways to do things, but to also raise the bar on how we conduct ourselves in this business.

I am not a long time business owner like many of others here....but I know a fair amount about best practices in the green business....many of us talk about how we can differentiate our companies from the pack...I do it by simply explaining to a customer that I will not dump 3 more inches on top of hard packed mulch from prior years...I explain why...briefly. THey often look at me like I am from Mars..because they are used to other companies over mulching year in and year out. I carry a picture in my truck of a suffocated root system and then the actual dead plant. Most people will never understand why too much N in spring is as bad as too much mulch...they are too busy with their life...but taking only a moment to explain (or show) them, the pros/cons of a certain procedure, does indeed separate some of us from the people in this business who give it the reputation it has earned...I am proud of our business...and therfore I offered this thread...now I'm off my soapbox....

Mike Bradbury
02-12-2003, 05:19 PM
if the mulch you use is packing down like that, then you would need to worry abou it. Personally, I'm used to seeing the mulch decompose and become finer and more soil like underneath the outer layer. That decomposing cellulose feeds the soil as it breaks down, after the nitrogen locking phase is over. The stuff next to the soil on the very bottom is the GOOD stuff that replaces the organic matter burned up every summer during the growing season.
Best practices would have you constantly working to improve the soil. Feed the soil, the soil will feed the plant.