How NOT to Mulch a Tree

I drive through neighborhoods daily and see trees mulched improperly.  People want to do the best for their trees and apply the “More is better” principal with disastrous results.

Trees that have been over mulched dry out quicker in hot summer months and are prone to disease and attacks by rodents.  Mulching a tree like a volcano also doesn’t look natural.

If your trees have mulch that looks like a volcano the best thing you can do is remove the excess.  There should only be 2-3″ of mulch around a tree with a minimum of 6″ of space between the mulch and the trunk of the tree.

Be gentle when removing mulch.  You don’t want to damage the tree with your shovel.  Use your hands to remove mulch near the trunk and large roots.  Cleanly cut roots with sharp pruning shears to help them heal more quickly.

Keep Dirt and Mulch Off Your Siding

A  drip edge is a trench filled with gravel that prevents mud from splashing against your home.  You install it where water drips off the roof.  I also use a drip edge when the grade next to the house is the same level as  the siding.

Install the drip edge one foot from the siding when controlling a grade and a little outside the drip line of a home when controlling splashing water.

If your grade is level with the siding install a drip edge level with the mulch.  Leave a 1-2″ gap from the top of the edging to keep mulch from touching the siding.

Closeup of drip edge.
I removed mulch touching the siding before installing the drip edge. You can see where the mulch touching the siding blocked the painters.

Use commercial grade metal edging for drip edges.  No rolled plastic from a box store.  It comes in 1/8″ and 3/16″ widths that are 4″ tall and 10′ or 16′ long.  This is heavy-duty stuff.  If you have tight curves go with the thinner metal.  There are fitting available for the edging for corners and splices to make the job look more professional.

Fill your trench with a minimum of 1″ diameter gravel.  Gravel smaller than 1″ blows out of the trench when cleaning up leaves.  The gravel also blocks sunlight and preventing weeds.

Measuring Stick
A stick cut the distance you want from the house is the best tool for measuring.
Depth Control of Drip Edge
Draw a line on the stick to control the depth of your trench. Avoid over excavating your trench.  You want soil there to hold the edging.


Sometimes You Have to be Creative
You have to be creative with existing plants when installing a drip edge.

I use gravel with earthy tones that blends with the landscape.  A river stone with rounded edges works nicely too.  The choice is yours.

I don’t use weed fabric under the gravel.  Weed fabric traps sediment and the gravel will soon be sprouting weeds.  Not using fabric also makes the stone easier to remove should the need arise.

Belgian Block Drip edge
You don’t have to use metal edging to create a drip edge.

Apply black spray paint where you cut the edging to prevent rust.  I use a Milwaukee Portaband to cut edging.  A hacksaw, some elbow grease and a lot of patience works just as well.

Time spent installing a drip edge will keep you from having to replace siding, or worse, down the road.

By John Holden