Mulch alternatives under trees

cakbu z9 CA(9 CA)June 26, 2012

Been in my new home 6 months. The yard has lots of big, mature deciduous trees. In their lifetime they received lots of water for grass originally planted beneath and the tree roots in some places are above ground. Grass is gone and now it's hardpacked dirt. Want to mulch with something that won't be blown away by a leafblower to be used each fall for mounds of leaves! What would be a good stable mulch? I don't plan to plant under the trees.

TIA, Cheryl

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Brad Edwards

Personally I like pinestraw or a groundcover such as juniper for situations like those, it depends on the trees though and their root structure, be it shallow or deep as to what you might be able to plant without messing the tree up. Here Live oaks are a pain to plant around if not done right.

I think a gravel bed could be another low maintenance option, don't just think typical pea gravel, there are more choices out there now than ever.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:17PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Another possibility is to use the leaves as a mulch. No leaves leave our garden in the fall. We use a mulching leaf-blower - or the lawn-mower - to chop all the fallen leaves. Then they are spread on the garden beds under the trees as a mulch. What kind of trees do you have? Do you have any interest in gardening under them?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:27PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Under our live oak we use a combination of the leaves that fall in the spring and pine straw. On some other trees I use pine straw exclusively.

On LSU's campus they use shredded wood waste for mulch under all of their live oaks.

Here is a link that might be useful: tree care ... mulching

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:39PM
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cakbu z9 CA(9 CA)

I have a variety of trees: several very tall poplar, several large fruiting (ugh) mulberries, couple of spindly pines, and several others which I don't know what they are. These are all mature trees that provide lots of shade - which I like. I don't want to plant under them, just want to cover the hardpacked dirt with something attractive which I can blow clean without blowing the mulch away. Most of the trees have roots that are visible above ground. Is "pine straw" just what I think of as pine needles? Can you buy it?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 7:48PM
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cearbhaill

I have many mature oaks and hickories that we have surrounded with beds. I have an enormous amount of leaves.
We use simple hardwood mulch that we buy by the truckload from a local place. Once it is in place through the spring rains and summer drought it is easy to blow leaves out of. We shred some of the leaves and return them to the beds and compost the rest.

Check what is available to you locally before you get your heart set on something recommended here.
But know that you can certainly blow leaves out of simple shredded mulch beds without disturbing the mulch.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 7:14AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Leaving the leaves as mulch is a definite possibility. Around here, there are several yards where the fall cleanup is piling the leaves under the trees and leaving them there. If this is really 'woods', nothing really has to be done.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 10:52AM
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cearbhaill

Ha- we have too many leaves just to leave them piled around the trees- they'd smother them.
Never underestimate the amount of leaves mature trees can drop-

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 4:57PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

That's nothing. I can see green stuff poking through. These yards have it piled up 3-4 ft deep. And then it is mostly gone by spring.

Just as nobody waters trees in the woods, nobody picks up after them either. The trees can handle it. It's the human introduced groundcovers that can't.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 5:14PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

As mad gallica says - that's nothing.... Our backyard is completely covered every fall with the leaves of a mature green ash, a red oak (although a lot of those hang on the tree until spring and get chopped up and added to the garden in spring...) and the needlecast from two middle-aged white pines. The leaves get chopped with either the lawn mower or the mulching leaf blower and get dumped on the beds. Chopping them first reduces the volume and makes them break down faster. I figure the leaves represent all the nutrients the trees took from the soil during the growing season and it is best for the tree and the gardens if those nutrients are returned to the soil - as they would be naturally in a woodland environment. I'd bet the soil under your trees is hard-packed and dry. It needs the leaves to add organic matter. If you ever decide to plant woodland-type plants under the trees, the leaves are part of the conditions they expect.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 6:06PM
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timbu

Woody, a question - do the chopped leaves still go flying when there's wind?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 5:51AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

timbu - no, the chopped leaves stay put better than the loose ones! The chopped leaves take up less space and that helps reduce the opportunities for the wind to get beneath them and set them airborne. They pack down quickly - without 'pack down' meaning a smothering layer. They quickly seem to rot and almost disappear.

I went through my photo albums trying to find pictures of what it looks like when the leaves fall and after they're chopped. These are from several different years and aren't the best but I think you can see the effect...

When the leaves fall (not all the leaves are down yet in this picture):

After they've been chopped and added to the beds:

Early May - all the leaves have virtually disappeared and the plants are happy with their 'woodland' conditions:

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 10:20AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Leaves ARE the natural mulch for trees. Not only do I use leaves for most of the trees, but also most of the shrub borders, and almost all the beds in the back garden (which is a large naturalized garden, composed of primarily native plants). I collect bags of leaves in the fall, and also asked my neighbor to rake and blow his leaves right into the shrub border on our property line, and he happily obliges.

IMO shredded leaves make a very attractive mulch, and so does leaf mold (partially decomposed leaves). I use aged wood chips on the front gardens, because they are more ornamental - and straw or compost in the veggie garden.

I don't understand the logic of using fossil fuels and labor to remove what is the natural mulch for a plant designed by millenia of evolution, and then use more fossil fuels and labor to bring in a mulch from elsewhere!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 2:37PM
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gnome666

Is it OK to use decorative stone/rock around a weeping willow?
I have reddish rock about a 1" size. The tree is still relatively small about 12 ft.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 9:51AM
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cearbhaill

It is OK in terms of not hurting the tree.
How OK it will be years later when you want to remove it is another question.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 12:16PM
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