Just about every day I see at least one mulch volcano around a tree or beds mulched with dyed wood chips. Both scenes make me cringe. Why? Because neither do anything to enhance the health of the plant material they surround.
Dyed wood chips (black or brown) often contain shredded palettes or other wood products as opposed to natural materials like roots or bark. Dyes and non-organic matter add no nutrients to the soil when they eventually decompose (and it takes a long time). So why use them? Most people choose dyed mulches because the colors last longer and they feel the dark color sets off the plants better. That may be true, but I encourage you to change your perspective. Create healthy soil instead which is best achieved by using materials like bark, roots or leaves that will add nutrients to the soil upon decomposition.
In addition to choosing a natural mulch, focus on planting correctly. As Andy Schenck, owner of Sam Brown’s Wholesale Nursery, likes to say, “Trees are not telephone poles.” Trees, when planted properly have an obvious root flare. Sometimes you have to dig down into the soil to find the root flare, even if you purchase a tree from a reputable nursery. But don’t skip this step. Finding the root flare is an important practice if you want your tree to last a long time. If you cover the root flare with mulch, you will encourage insect infestation and other diseases by causing moisture to be in direct contact with the bark. When you mulch the tree after planting, keep the mulch away from the root flare. Resist the urge to keep piling it on year after year.
While these best practices in planting and mulching may take some extra time and cause you to change what you think is pretty, I plead with you to do what’s best for your plants. Just Say No to mulch volcanos and dyed mulch to create a landscape that lasts!