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Insulate Your Plant Roots With Mulch

This is a time of uncertainty….for the weather as well as everything else in our lives. However, the early predictions I’ve seen indicate that this may be a mild winter with less than the usual amount of snow. The map I saw showed major snow events taking place north of Lake Ontario.

If this long term forecast is accurate, you’ll enjoy the mild weather but your landscape plants won’t. They’ll be subject to ongoing freezing and thawing cycles. Among other possible problems, the roots could heave, destabilizing the plant. In a cold winter, a near constant snowpack insulates the roots , protecting them. In a constantly changing winter, your plants need your help.

Organic mulch is a smart insulation choice for many reasons. Mulch moderates soil temperature and regulates the amount of water that the soil absorbs. While insulating the root zone, the mulch begins decomposing, returning organic matter to the soil. Organic mulch made from chipped and ground wood chips is good for the environment, too. It’s made from waste from our tree care operations. When pruning or removing trees, our arborists chip the brush in the field and bring it back to our facility where it is further ground into pieces of nearly equal size. It is then left to age and begin decomposing before it’s ready to be spread as mulch.

Although it’s December already, mulch can still be spread since the ground hasn’t frozen yet. If the area beneath trees and shrubs, as well as your perennial beds, already have a layer of organic mulch, you only need a top coat for the winter. It wouldn’t hurt to mulch your annual beds, too. As the mulch decomposes, it’ll fertilize the soil so it’ll be all ready for spring planting.

Ideally, your mulched areas should have a layer two or three inches deep. Before calculating how much mulch you need, it would be a good idea to measure how much is left. Dig down into the mulch with a garden trowel until you reach only the native soil. Measure it with a ruler. If the mulch is less than three inches deep, you should consider adding enough to bring it up to four inches.

Be prepared to remove the top inch or two in the spring. During the growing season, mulch should be no deeper than two or three inches. When preparing for the growing season, use the same method to measure the depth as you did to determine how much winter mulch to add. If you have to remove mulch in the spring, either use it in beds with less than two inches or add it to your compost pile.

Mulch is sold by the cubic yard. To calculate the amount you need, measure the length and width of the bed and multiply the two figures together to determine the area and multiply that by the number of inches you have to add to get the volume. It may be best if you calculate the length, width and depth in inches and divide by 46656 (the number of cubic inches in a cubic yard). If you can convert the depth to feet, measure the length and width in feet and then you’ll only have to divide by 27 (the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard). The area around the base of a tree or free-standing shrub will be round, so you’ll have to use the formula radius squared times 3.14 (Pi) for the area and then multiply it by the depth to calculate the volume.

Depending on how much mulch you need, it may be more economical to buy in bulk than in bags. We can dump bulk mulch in the driveway for you to spread, or we can spread it for you. If you spread it, don’t pile it against tree trunks or shrub stems. Leave a couple of inches exposed to discourage rodents from dining there.

One comment on “Insulate Your Plant Roots With Mulch

  1. It helps insulate against warmth during summer too.

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