A Volcano in your Landscape?


By Tony Catanzaro,


Yes there are thousands of these volcanoes in the garden state, mulch volcanoes that is. They are formed by unaware home owners and landscapers. The mulch is piled up high around the trunks of trees sometimes as deep as 12 inches. These “volcanoes” are very detrimental to the trees. The mulch causes the trunk to rot (crown rot) damaging the cambium layer located just under the bark. The cambium layer is what moves nutrients from the roots to the branches and leaves of a tree. Mice and other varmints will make their winter homes in these mulch volcanoes for warmth and chew on the tree trunks further damaging the tree. This will cause the trees to be stressed, and prematurely die. If you have mulch volcanoes remove the mulch around the tree and inspect the crown for rot or damage. The proper way to mulch a tree is to apply 2-3 inches of mulch around the bed line and tapering the mulch down to almost no mulch at the trunk. Make sure your mulch does not become matted down and act as a shield to water causing it to run off, if this happens break up the mulch with a rake or cultivator.


There are many different wood based landscape mulches available. The most common is the recycled root mulch. This is used by most landscapers and is made from tub grinding tree stumps. Because it is a recycled local product it is usually the most economical. The color is a varied shade of brown. The more you age the mulch the richer the color. Once spread the root mulch will retain its color for 1 to 3 months and then fade to a grayish color. By cultivating the root mulch you can temporarily regain the darker color. Many garden centers sell products to add to your sprayer so you can colorize your old mulch to give it that fresh look.


Of course you can by colored root mulches as well. It comes in brown, black, red and I have even seen blue! There are two methods for coloring mulches. One is a bonded process and the other non-bonded. The bonded one will stick better and will not track onto shoes or clothes as easy. You can purchase colored hardwood and cedar mulches as well. You will pay more for colored mulch. The price will vary by the coloring process and the mulch itself.


Hardwood, bark, hemlock, and other specialty mulches are available at a premium. These mulches are made with a hammer mill process. While they will out last the root mulch many people with large areas to cover shy away from the high cost. Cedar mulch is also more costly but still popular. Cedar has many advantages over other mulches. Cedar mulches will out last most other mulches. Cedar also has a more pleasant aroma than the other mulches. Homes with termite or carpenter ant problems are better served with cedar as well.


Should you install a weed fabric under your wood mulch? No is my answer. While it works for a while as soon as the mulch gets older and starts to decompose weeds will root in the mulch and the roots will take hold in the fabric. This makes hand weeding much harder. You would be much better off to use a weed pre emergent in your mulch and control weeds that do grow in with an herbicide like Round-Up.


Several fungal agents can form in your mulch. A slime mold called “dog vomit” is caused by Physarum, Fuligo and Stemonitis. They appear as slimy irregular masses from a couple of inches to a foot long. Hose them down and remove the fruiting bodies. Birds nest fungus (Crucibulum Cyathus) is commonly found in wood based mulches. They form “eggs” inside “nests” that are really spores. The spores are splashed out by rain drops and spreads. They can stick to surfaces but can be cleaned very easily. The biggest problem fungus is Artillery fungus (Sphaerobolus). They produce fruiting bodies that have a cream or orange-brown cup. The cup is about 1/10 of an inch. The effected areas may appear lighter than nearby areas. These cups shoot black fruiting bodies up to 20 feet, getting on houses, cars, lawn furniture and everything else. The spores have a tar like consistency and are very difficult to remove. There is no treatment available for Artillery fungus. You can remove the wood mulch and use stone as your mulch. Research by Penn State has shown that Cedar mulches do not support the Artillery fungus.


Still mulching has many benefits besides its ornamental features. Mulched beds keep soil temps from fluctuating and create a good growing environment. The mulch does help keep weeds down and also keeps pre emergent products from eroding out of the bed. The mulch layer also helps retain soil moisture in times of drought. The decomposition of the mulch adds to the organic matter in the soil media. Tiny bacteria use nitrogen in the soil to help this decomposing happen. This is why fresh wood chips can be a problem. The bacteria go into overdrive trying to breakdown all the chips and can cause a nitrogen deficiency. This can be countered by adding a fertilizer when applying fresh wood chips. Be aware fresh chips may also have poison ivy that got chipped with it and if you are sensitive it could cause a reaction. The fresh wood chips may also carry in a pest or disease that caused that tree to get chipped in the first place, so know where your chips are coming from. That free load could be costly.


Regency landscape delivers and installs a wide variety of mulches. We can help correct the issue if you have mulch volcanoes. Contact us for a consultation and a quote today!

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