Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making Mulch on Labor Day

We spent Labor Day creating garden gold: mulch. 

 We turned 18.5 cubic yards of tree branches...

Into this. Perhaps two yards of the finished product...aka, mulch!

But we had help. The Sacramento area-based arborists from Up A Tree brought their huge, chipper-shredder to our property.

They breezed through the chipping chore, reducing three large piles of tree trimmings into mulch in just a few hours. If we had used our small chipper-shredder, we'd still be out there. 

In fact, Jeanne and I took more time piling up the branches on Saturday than Up A Tree spent chipping them on Monday.

One great benefit of using your own tree trimmings as mulch: you aren't importing someone else's problems (diseases and insects from another job site). One way to mitigate this: keep those down-the-street trimmings in a pile on your property for several months. That can help to destroy pest eggs and certain pathogens, if the temperature in the pile gets up to 140 degrees or so. The downside of keeping tree trimmings in a large pile: ant colonies might move in. Be careful when shoveling!

And, more and more tree trimming companies are reluctant to pass on their tree trimmings to a nearby neighbor. In the good old days, you could bribe (or ask nicely) a tree trimming company doing work on your street to drop off their load in your yard; after all, they were probably just going to take it to the dump. Not any more. Due to the demand of this as a mulch, many arbor companies are keeping or reselling chipped/shredded tree trimmings. Still, it can't hurt to ask!

 Benefits of a homegrown organic mulch, such as chipped tree branches or compost:
• Inexpensive.

• Retains moisture.

• Keeps soil temperature constant, reducing plant stress.

• Suppresses weeds.

• Gradually increases soil organic matter, feeding the soil. 

• Attracts beneficial organisms that improve soil fertility and porosity.


• Mulch encourages healthier plants, reducing the needs for pesticides and fertilizers.

• Protects roots and plants from mechanical injury.

• On hillsides and around rural homes, it suppresses the spread of brush fires.

Some cautionary notes: 

• Don't pile up organic mulch around the trunks of trees and shrubs. 
• Keep mulch a few inches away from trunks to lessen the chances of rots and other diseases.
• Don't import someone else's problems. Avoid using as mulch any diseased plant material, including suffering tree limbs, diseased leaves, herbicide-treated lawn.

To cover an area with three inches of mulch:
apply about 1 cubic yard for every 100 square feet of area.
It may need replenishing each year.

One of the downsides of mulch: native bees will be dissuaded from nesting in mulched areas. To attract ground-dwelling native bees, keep a portion of your yard unmulched.

For a great publication about mulch, download this pdf, "The Landscapers' Guide to Mulch" from the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

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