Ask a Question forum: Tree Mulch Mounds

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Name: Rich Nam
Wilmington, MA (Zone 6b)
Jul 14, 2016 5:57 AM CST

I'very been listening to the Allthingsplants podcast this week and I absolutely love it. Dave and Trish are absolutely wonderful. Thanks you for producing such a quality podcast about plants and steering me to this website.

Anyway, I was listening to the podcast about trees, the one all about how (not) to kill trees. They said mulch mounds around the trunk is bad and will suffocate it.

Well, my family just moved to a new house this year and we have some lovely trees around the property. In our front yard there's a stunning red maple tree (~20 feet tall), though it does look a little thin and frail. A big bough snapped off in March, leaving a hole in the trees overall shape. It was a particularly mild winter but I believe that day was quite windy. My concern was maybe this tree wasn't as healthy and strong as it should be given such a big bough could simply snap.

There is a mulch mound around the base of the trunk from the previous owner. I don't know how long it's been there. However, after listening to the podcast, I wanted to move the Mulch away from the trunk at least. But trying to do so, I encountered a thick build up of roots in the mound. I'm not sure if the roots are from the tree or not (there aren't any other plants growing on the mound though), but they are very thick around the tree. I don't want to damage the roots if they are from the tree. I am concerned for its strength after all and damaging roots seem counterintuitive. What should I do about this mulch mound?
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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Jul 14, 2016 6:36 AM CST
Welcome! Would you be able to post a picture of the base of the trunk so that we can check out the root flare etc.?
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)

Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
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Jul 14, 2016 7:17 AM CST
Welcome! @Darasama. Please take a moment and update your "Profile" stating your location. City and state are most helpful, but just the USDA zone is better than nothing. Location can be important when asking questions or giving advice.

Maples can be very tricky to grow. I had three beautiful maples in my front yard, and after 8 yrs., two died. No one knows why. They were put in by a well-respected horticulturist and I had one replaced five years ago when the first one died. That replacement died as well. The horticulturist came out several times and tested the soil but could find nothing of importance that would kill the (3) trees. He said many maples simply don't do well in the deep south, though he can't explain why the one tree is still looking healthy. It is probably 20' tall now. He said he would put more maples in but I declined, since I feared they are "northern" types and I would simply lose them again. I am growing native maples in large pots, transplanted pups from wild, but healthy, ones. All of these are growing well. Time will tell.

I personally would not remove that (rooted) mulch.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Jul 14, 2016 7:42 AM CST
Locally, I've seen the practice of planting trees in new developments very high with maybe 1/2 to 1/3 of the root ball above ground and then mulched, sometimes with a mound almost a foot tall. Maybe because of our clay? I would remove some of the excess mulch but, like drdawg says, don't disturb the roots. As for the health of the tree, is it growing in a lawn? Do you use lawn chemicals other than fertilizers?
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
Jul 14, 2016 7:51 AM CST
As the podcast says, mounding mulch around a tree trunk with the high point of the mulch mound at the tree trunk is exactly what one should not be doing. The doughnut shape of mulch, with very little to no mulch at the tree trunk is what we should strive for. As Sooby says, it's important to know how high the root flare is, since it may have purposely been planted above the existing soil surface (as Shadegardener says). This would also determine the overall shape of the mulch mound.

But you are right: don't remove all that mulch and kill the existing roots outright. That would be very stressful for the tree. I would probably remove some, though, to encourage deeper roots and roots elsewhere. It sounds like there might be other complicating factors, like either very heavy or very sandy native soil in your yard, or undesirable watering practices in the the past. But without any more information, that's only speculation.

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