Epidemic Effecting Landscape Trees
There is an epidemic spreading throughout the state and country that is slowly killing trees and shrubs in our landscapes. No, it isn’t another disease or insect we accidentally imported from another country like Asian Longhorned Beetle which is killing trees in NYC and Chicago or Dutch Elm Disease which changed our landscapes in the 1960’s and 70’s. And unlike some of these imported pests, this epidemic can be prevented very easily.
|Don't over-mulch and create mulch "volcanoes!"|
This epidemic is caused by misapplication of mulch around our trees and shrubs. “We are over-mulching our trees and shrubs to death” says Vincent Cotrone, Penn State Urban Forester and certified arborist. “Mulching is a terrific way to add organic matter and nutrients, conserve soil moisture, and prevent lawn mowers from injuring trees and shrubs, but it is just being put on way too thick and piled too high on trunks and stems.”
When mulches are put on too thick and piled against the stems of trees and shrubs, they begin to suffocate roots and create a moist environment in which opportunistic decay fungi such as Phytophora, Armillaria, and Leptographium attack the trunk and roots, causing root rots, a decline in plant health, crown dieback, and tree failures. Besides causing the roots and stems to rot, over-mulching prevents the movement of oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of stems; can lead to rodent chewing and stem girdling; nutrient deficiencies and the production of toxic organic acids; and often causes roots to grow up into thick mulch, only to dry out in hot summers, or form girdling roots that encircle and the trunk.
“It seems to be fashionable these days for landscapers and homeowners to create these mountainous mulch “volcanoes” at the base of trees” says Cotrone. “Unfortunately this continues because there is a lack of knowledge about how trees really grow and the harm caused by this practice.” A quick walk in the woods will illustrate how trees have a natural flare where their trunks meet the soil (visible even on young trees). “It is important that we not cover that flare with soil or mulch” says Cotrone. “Spread the mulch out in a layer that is no thicker than 3-4 inches, and don’t pile it up on the trunks of trees and stems of shrubs”.
|A properly mulched tree!|
Mulching your trees and shrubs can improve soils and grow healthy plants, but too much of a good thing can be harmful. So take a closer look at your mulch or your landscapers work this summer and make sure you don’t have mulch-mountains or “volcanoes” in your landscape. Let’s stop this epidemic before it kills more trees.
For more information on mulching visit the following websites:
Penn State Extension: Planting Ornamentals
Trees Are Good: Proper Mulching Techniques