Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time
Trees

It’s a Tree Ring Circus!

I honestly have to say this seems to be one of the most confusing elements of tree care for most people so I am here to clear up the confusion. Tree ring mulching techniques are quite simple, keep it looking like they do in the woods.

Start With a Berm

Obviously there are various stages of tree growth and mulch provides a number of benefits to the tree. When a tree is a sapling (baby tree) and newly planted, you create what is called a mulch “berm”. A berm is to be built in the shape of a tire. The berm starts approximately 8 inches away from the base of the tree trunk and should end at least 3′ out from the trunk.

Proper tree planting, watering and mulch techniques

Proper tree berm and watering technique

The center 8″ is completely  level with the ground. The outer ring is just that, a ring, much like a doughnut with about a 6″ high bump. This bowl serves as a swell to hold water in when the sapling or baby tree gets watered or is fortunate enough to receive rain.

Keep it Low

Now, here is where the confusion grows. The tree berm shouldn’t look like a teepee, a muffin, a volcano, or any such shape other than a spare tire, or inner tube around the tree. Imagine if you took a child’s pool inner tube and placed it around your baby. You’d have a baby in the middle and a tube around it, not up over it, not half covering it, around it.

Improper tree mulching

This is an example of what your berm or tree ring should NOT look like.

Keep it Growing

The second area of confusion is what in the heck to do with that berm when your tree starts to grow larger. A mature tree mulching technique is a little different. The ring should now be flat and as round as the canopy. 

Proper mulch ring around a mature tree

Don’t Build a Tomb

This is where a lot of people will build a rock fortress several stones high then fill it in with dirt. Better still, (sarcasm) they will build a very small diameter stone fortress that will one day be a prison for a growing tree that must have room to spread its proverbial limbs.

Improper use of stone around trees

Improper tree bed

Over filled tree well

Eventually the tree breaks through the stone (if it doesn’t succumb to disease from being over buried) and now you have an expensive pile of rubble and a stressed tree. If you like the look of a stone border around your trees, make it large and low, you should be able to see the tree “flair” or “bell shape” at the base of the tree trunk coming from the ground.

Keep it Flat

Proper placement of mulch ring on mature trees

After about the 2nd year a tree no longer requires the mulch berm, now it needs a tree ring. A ring you say? Yes a tree ring that is wide and flat and serves another purpose than its rotund counterpart.

Keep the Grass Away

I often ask and will continue to do so, “when was the last time you saw a tree in the woods and it had sod underneath it?”  You didn’t, you saw organic matter and symbiotic plant life, but not a carpet of competition. Grass is a water hog and eats up all the trees nutrients by blocking the organic matter that would be there naturally.

Tree ring round mature tree

Tree ring around mature tree

I suggest after the first two years, you remove your tree stakes and remove an equal amount of sod as the drip line of the tree. The drip line is the outermost limbs of the tree… imagine you had your arms outstretched and your fingertips would be the drip line.

Compost Feeds and Repairs

Each springtime you need to add about 1/4-1/2″ of compost, followed by a 1/2″ of mulch. Do this every year or two that the tree begins to branch out (no pun intended) and keep widening the tree ring a bit by removing a little more sod until the ring is as outstretched as you are comfortable with. As your tree grows, this is a great place for a bird bath, a bench, or some simple Xeriscape plants.

Proper mulching of mature trees

Below, here is a proper tree berm for a young tree (all be it a large one), it should serve as a “well” to collect water. As the tree matures, you simply remove the “lip” around the edge of the berm and create a flat ring to serve as a barrier against the sod and as a place to add nutrients for the tree.

Sapling mulch berm

Tree Rings are Protection 

Finally, while keeping a mulched tree ring around all of your trees is a value to the tree, it is especially a valuable to your Oaks. Oak Wilt is at epidemic proportions here in Central Texas and your tree ring keeps lawn mowers and weed eaters at a safe distance. Injury to the tree bark allows the fungus to make a home for itself, so keep a distance.
 (see; Oakwilt-http://texasoakwilt.org/ or http://lisalapaso.com/2010/02/04/oak-wilt/ )

Happy Gardening!

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design ( “like” me on Facebook! )                                                                                                                                                               

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3 Comments

  1. I remember this tree care lesson from you…which we follow even today. Truly makes all the difference to a young tree just starting out. Every time we pass a lawn with a tree base that looks like a volcano…we smile and think of you.

  2. Shelly

    I have a new neighbor who is from out of state and didn’t know about this. I told her about not making the big mounds around her trees (which she had done), so she is going to fix them and spread it out. I’m going to print this article and give to her, so she can learn! Thanks for the GREAT info, Lisa!

    • I am glad it was helpful. So many people don’t understand the damage they are doing so good for you for sharing your knowledge. You’re a good neighbor!

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