The benefits of a good mulch cannot be overestimated. Not only does it deter weeds from making growth and keeps the area surrounding the tree clear, it also prevents nutrients from leaching out of the soil. Fertilizer and feed that you do apply will stay in place so it can be readily absorbed by the roots. Of course the most important aspect of mulching is that of water retention; it’s of huge value during dry spells in the Spring and Summer and will cut back on the need for watering by hand. It is of particular value to newly planted trees which are more prone to water shortages than established ones.
And lets not forget the value of a mulch during the winter. It will provide insulating properties and prevent penetrating frost from damaging roots and union.
There are several materials that can be used. Your choice will likely depend on availability and ready prepared mulches are available from garden centres. But there are also several natural sources which may be more cost effective.
Manure – be it from cows, chickens, paltry or horses can be used but you must make sure it is very well rotted and mature. Usually it is best mixed with some straw from the stable floor which will aid heat and water retention.
Straw on it’s own can also be used and has excellent properties; the only snag is that in the springtime you will probably get a crop of wheat or barley seedlings appear which will have to be removed before they grow too big.
Wood chips Are another good option, as long as they are of fine grade. Sawdust can also be used, make sure it is damped won after use so that it settles and doesn’t blow away.
Grass clippings May be the best of all materials to use, as they decompose quickly, bedding down to provide an almost permanent layer and they do not have any seeds either. If you have a lawn of course, then this source of mulch is free so next time you do the mowing, save the clippings!
Leaf mould - also known as black gold by those who ‘know’ is a superb source of mulching material. You can collect it yourself or ‘manufacture’ it by adding swept leaves in the autumn to a specially designated compost bin and allowing it to rot down. The longer the better so this is one mulching option where some forethought is required. I can’t recommend that it is gathered from the wild as it isn’t a very eco friendly thing to do.
Inorganic options are also availanle. You can use black pastic secired or pegged down and you can also buy specially made ‘mulch mats’ from garden centres. You could even use carpet tiles or circular pieces of carpet cut out of a relegated carpet or rug and use that, it works well but isn’t particularly pleasing to the eye!
Apply natural mulches to a depth of 4-6”. They can be kept in place permanently and added to as the depth sinks, which it will over time. If mould or fungus starts to grow on or near the trunk, clear a space away from immediately around the trunk so the sun and air can get to it. The fungus will then usually die away after a few days and the mulch can be pushed back.