Yes, the title may seem unusual or provocative, but each year I see more examples of improper mulch applications that contribute to damage and pre-mature death to trees in the Lakelands. The favorite victims have to be red maples.

Spotting the deadly effects of over-mulching has become an annual event for me as I drive around the Lakelands. Red Maples are the easiest to spot because severely stressed trees will show their red fall foliage leaf color early (particularly the brilliant red leaf cultivars). From late July into September they are easy to spot. Victims are not restricted to one type of landscape. They appear quite often in commercial planting as parking lot trees, subdivision entrances within larger landscape plantings, and in subdivision home yards.

One common denominator with the victims are heavy mulch in contact with the tree stem piled around the trees. Some piles are so high that the descriptive name of volcano mulching has been created. When the maples are covered with red leaves while other unmulched trees are still covered in green, the entire plant and mulch does have the appearance of a small volcano erupting up the white stem and into the fiery red foliage. Well, maybe the name has more to do with large amounts of mulch heaped around the stem having the appearance of a small volcano.

Correctly applied mulch would have 2-4 inches of loose mulch scattered flatly around the tree with no mulch piled against the stem. Why would mulch touching the stem of trees be a problem? After all trees in the woods are shedding leaves now and some collect near the tree stems. The difference is that you won’t see piles of chopped or finely ground bark, wood and leaves collecting against tree stems for long in nature...

Natural mulching is what our landscape mulching intends to mimic because it produces benefits to woody trees and shrubs when applied as nature does it. Clemson HGIC Bulletin 1604; Mulch provides good information on the many benefits of various types of mulch when applied correctly at:


As a caution, always keep mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the stems of woody plants. This will prevent diseases and decay caused or aided by wet mulch on stems and reduce rodent chewing damage during the winter on both trees and shrubs.

As a reminder, subterranean termites nest in the soil and feed on materials that contain cellulose. Termite treatments are applied to the soil around buildings, so keeping mulch 6-12 inches away from walls will prevent termites from using it as a bridge to cross treated soil.

If you have questions stop by our office off East Cambridge Avenue or call us at 864-223-3264. Below are two programs presented in Abbeville that may be useful.

Lawn renovation and establishment after drought program

Abbeville County Extension Office, 265 Industrial Park Rd, Abbeville, SC 29620; Nov. 9, 9-11 a.m. Call 864-446-2276 to register by Nov 7. -For Home & Commercial Lawns; topics: Over seeding, Soil sampling, Variety Selection

Farm financial recordkeeping

Financial analysis is important for business to know where they stand and to create a plan of action. Learn how to gain confidence in understanding your own accounting dates and be able to plan your farm business.-Nov. 10 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. – Call ahead with above number to register for this class.

James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.