Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Wider is better in laying mulch


Most people would argue against the notion that "bigger is better," but can we similarly dismiss the view that wider is better? Perhaps in the case of my posterior we can, but arborists know that wider is better when it comes to the mulched area around trees in home landscapes.

How wide should the mulched area be? Studies repeatedly demonstrate that tree growth is enhanced in direct proportion to the width of the mulch bed around the tree. In other words, wider is better. As a general recommendation, width of a mulch bed should be a minimum of three feet, but can extend as far as you see fit, though your next-door neighbor might take offense when the mulch bed encroaches on his door step.

For those who have been mulching to a different drummer, here are a few more research-based rules for mulching around trees. Do not pile mulch high against the base of the tree trunk. Keep the depth of mulch under four inches. Use a coarse mulch of natural materials, such as wood chips, bark nuggets or pine needles. If using wood chips, partially composted chips are best. Don't be overly aggressive in adding fresh mulch to the old every year. The total depth of mulch, old and new, should not exceed three inches.

Post-mulching tasks

• Take a close look at the asparagus you are now harvesting. Signs of gnawed spears indicate cutworms. Cutworms hide in the soil during the day and munch on plants at night. Often you can locate them by scratching in the soil to a depth on an inch in a radius of six inches around damaged spears. Otherwise, take a night-time saunter through the asparagus patch and look for the chubby grub-like critter attacking a spear.

• Don't bother to sow seeds of onions now if you want bulbs larger than a marble. Onion bulb development is, in part, controlled by day length. Plants from seed sown now will not develop large bulbs. However, if you want to grow onions to use as scallions, go ahead and sow.

• Dig and pot up small clumps from oregano and mint growing in your garden. I find it easier to keep herbs cleaner when grown in pots rather than in the garden. It also seems to me that I have fewer problems with insects, notably the four-lined plant bug, a common pest of oregano and mint, when these herbs are grown in pots on our deck.

• Start new strawberry beds every three to five years since yield and quality of fruit decline over time.

• Examine landscape plants for the following pests: Rose slugs eating leaves of roses, tiny larvae of Viburnum Leaf Beetle dining on the undersides of viburnum leaves, slug-larvae of Lily Leaf Beetle chomping on leaves of Asiatic lilies. All of these pests can be controlled with a product containing spinosad, a natural product created by fermentation of a bacterium commonly found in soil.

• Come back to petunias. Many gardeners banned petunias from their gardens because of the plants' need for constant dead-heading, and their tendency to get leggy during the hot summer months. All I can say is, "Forgeddaboutit." Newer petunia strains, such as Surfinia, Supertunia, Wave and Cascadia, need no dead-heading and remain bushy throughout the growing season.

• Take extra precautions when working outdoors in brushy areas to protect you from deer ticks, now called the Black-Legged Tick. The tick is currently in the very tiny nymph stage and ,therefore, hard to detect. It has been reported you are most likely to contract Lyme disease from deer ticks in the nymph stage.


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