Your landscape beds are cleaned out, the lawn is mowed and now it is time for that annual rite of passage here in the Midwest. Mulch time! Time to decorate the landscape beds for a purpose, functionality, and aesthetic appeal.
Some homeowners and landscapers do in fact mulch every year and sometimes twice a year in the spring and fall. It all depends on what your long-term expectations are. If you are looking for the nice visual aspect of fresh color and fresh mulch, then once or twice a year is beneficial.
If you want low maintenance and only want to mulch every couple of years, then it is certainly possible and will typically require spreading your mulch a little deeper when you put it down in the beginning (3”-4”) and be content with “weathered coloring” of mulch. Our view is that mulch should be put down annually to compensate for the decomposition of the wood and bark fiber and the graying of the color.
When applying annually, a 2”-3” layer of mulch should be a sufficient depth. Mulch that is applied too thick can suffocate your plants and starve your soil for moisture. When you do decide to re-mulch, it may be a good idea to remove some of the older, existing mulch, or at the very least break it up and turn it over before applying the new, fresh layer.
By doing this you are removing the layers that are no longer decomposing and that are caked and packed together thus allowing fresh moisture and nutrients to your plants and into your soil.
Applying mulch around trees can be a great benefit to the trees, especially trees that constantly need to be mown around and weed whacked. Mulch can provide a nice mow free area and makes for a great buffer around the base of the tree.
If you do apply mulch around a tree, do not apply the mulch too thick, especially up around the trunk of the tree where you can create a “mulch volcano”. Trees that are mulched in a volcano style can easily get diseased around the trunk of the tree when too much moisture in the mulch is pressed against the bark of the tree.
It can also cause a problem where not enough moisture actually reaches the roots of the trees thereby allowing the trees to starve for water and the root system to not develop correctly. Remember as with anything in life moderation is key and so it is with mulch. Most of all enjoy your landscape and all of the benefits that mulch provides!