Ask a Question forum: Mulch rings

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Sep 14, 2016 9:42 AM CST
Do mulch rings protect from frost? If so, which provides better protection, rubber or coco fiber?
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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Sep 14, 2016 11:54 AM CST
Hi, welcome to NGA! Welcome!

Mulch rings:

Thumb of 2016-09-14/RickCorey/6c0fab

>> which provides better protection, rubber or coco fiber?

Maybe it is only me, but the very last thing I would put on my soil is a rubber rug made from recycled tires. Quite aside from the aesthetic effect of re-manufactured "industrial waste", I would expect things to leach out of recycled rubber that no plant ever evolved to handle. And the only time I saw rubber mulch come out of the bag, it had a strong, nasty rubber smell. (That can't be normal! It must dissipate and leach out after being on the ground for a while.)

I guess it's not a big deal since you are probably not eating your trees very often!
Opinions do differ, and obviously lots of people do buy rubber mulch or it wouldn't be in Home Depot.

For effectiveness at stabilizing soil temperatures, I'm guessing that rubber is not as good an insulator as anything fluffy or chunky with air spaces.

Bark chunks or wood chips work very well and I think they would last longer than a finely-shredded coir. If you can find coir "chips", they might last a long time. I think that wood chips are probably what arborists choose most often, but I am guessing.

One enormous advantage of organic mulch is that it enriches the soil as it turns back into soil. And the things that they release ARE things that plants and soil organisms HAVE evolved to digest over billions of years.

(Anyway, that's what I focus on.)

>> Do mulch rings protect from frost?

Here's my concern. If the roots need frost protection, wouldn't that mulch ring need to cover an area as large as the drip line of the leaves (or some other estimate of the size of the root zone)? I'm thinking that most mature trees would need a mulch ring hugely larger.

But if you're protecting a small tree, or a young tree for it's first 5-10 years, I understand.

(While I was looking for a borrow-able photo, I stumbled on this article. This guy is passionately against mulching trees in ANY way, mainly for his own aesthetic reasons. But what an unusual passion!)
Name: Heath
sevierville TN (Zone 7a)
Beekeeper Houseplants Region: Tennessee
Sep 14, 2016 3:50 PM CST
The only reason I mulch my trees is to keep from hitting the tree trunk with my weedeater or mower.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
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Sep 14, 2016 8:42 PM CST
Hi and welcome, CH24. Rick makes all the best arguments against using these rings above, but let me add my 2 cents worth. Down here in Florida, mulch is king and a lot of work and research goes into "what's the best mulch?".

Rubber and stones are almost worse than useless as mulch here in Florida (where everybody uses a LOT of mulch!). Both of them heat up in the sun, so fail to keep the soil cool for the plant, they don't hold together, so get scattered all over whenever somebody mows or weed-eats. Then in cold weather they don't insulate even half as well as an organic mulch.

For a brand-new very small tree, a mulch ring might cover enough of the roots to make a small difference when you need frost protection. Any tree that's been growing for at least 6 months i.e. if you planted a baby tree in the spring, can be assumed to have roots out beyond the spread of its branches. So most trees will outgrow the usefulness of a tree ring in a year or less.

But no tree ring is going to be thick enough or large enough to keep the soil warmer when the temps drop below freezing all night. Btw, you need to tell us where you live for us to judge what exactly will work for you. Please fill in your profile to include your location?

A 3in. to 4in. layer of wood chip mulch is going to do SO much more for your tree in terms of frost protection, plus soil moisture retention and weed prevention, it's not even worth thinking about. Go for the bagged wood chip mulch of your choice and use LOTS of it, spreading it a couple of feet beyond the width of the branches.


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Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member Celebrating Gardening: 2015 I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped beta test the first seed swap Region: United States of America Region: Michigan
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Sep 14, 2016 9:40 PM CST
Welcome to NGA, @CH24 !

It would probably be helpful if we knew what planting zone you are in... are you talking about a "light frost" ? or a deep freeze such as we get in my area, in the Michigan Upper Peninsula? When it comes to tree roots, I don't think "frost" is too much of a problem (the top of the plant may suffer, however); and I also don't think a "mulch ring" is going to help much in terms of an actual freeze.

I believe the "mulch rings" are mainly intended for keeping the lawn around a tree tidy.
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