Mulch Refresh and Expansion in Mid-Summer

Mid-summer brings lots of good things to experience in the Midwest.  Picnics in the park, 4th of July celebrations, cook-outs and barbeque, sweet corn and watermelon, lighting bugs, vacations at the lake and watching your favorite baseball team.  Unfortunately a few bad ones come with the good, one of which is summer heat and wind.  This combination can be harsh on a variety of landscape and garden plants, including brambles, cane fruits, fruit trees, shade trees, evergreen trees, shrubs, flowers and veggies.

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Many of these plant groupings have been mulched to preserve soil moisture and suppress weed growth, but many have not.  Mid-summer is optimal for “a good look-see” or evaluation of the mulch in the landscape.  If no mulch is in place, and grass is growing right up to a tree trunk or canes/stems of a shrub, it’s time to place about 2 inches of loose wood chips over the top and take advantage of the benefits as well as protect any surface roots that may have worked their way to the surface.  In other situations, some mulch is there, but it simply needs to be expanded or refreshed.

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Lack of mulch has led to an injury on this above ground root

Summer annual weeds (foxtail, purslane, crabgrass, spurge) often begin to overtake edible landscapes by this point in the season.  If your evaluation indicates this has occurred, use a hoe, weed whip or your hand to remove them, place 5 sheets of newspaper between rows, then an inch of straw or dried grass clippings over the paper.


Regardless of the plant that is being mulched, “too mulch” of a good thing is actually a bad thing.  4-5 inches of mulch in the veggie garden can turn moldy, while an abundance of wood chips at the base of a tree that resembles a volcano can cause the bark to remain overly wet, causing it to rot.  So check out the mulch around the plants in the landscape; adding, expanding or refreshing might be in order.

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Too much mulch can create a “mulch volcano” which often leads to problems down the line
John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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