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Janet Laminack: Use of mulch helps improve condition of plants, trees

Trees, shrubs and plants are still taking a beating with high temperatures and low rainfall even as we enter football season, which means it shouldn’t still be summer.

Signs of water stress include browning of the leaves around the edges, premature leaf color change and even leaf drop.

The environment we live in is complex and dynamic, and it’s not always easy to know exactly what is causing the stress to our plants. It could be heat or lack of water, or maybe insects or disease, or maybe it’s all of the above. Rather than combating the elements one by one, what we can do is reduce the stress our plants experience and promote health holistically. One of the best things we can do to improve the living conditions of plants and trees is to use mulch.  

Mulch refers to any type of material that is used as a layer of insulation on the soil. Mulch can be made of inorganic materials such as gravel, plastic or shredded tires. Mulch is also made of organic materials such as wood chips, leaves or pine needles.

I recommend using organic mulch directly on your soil (no landscape fabric barrier) because you reap the added benefit of the mulch breaking down and improving your soil. This does mean you will have to replenish your mulch periodically because all the good microorganisms are eating your mulch and turning it into good soil. At first this might be an annual chore, but as the microorganisms become more robust, you may find you have to add more mulch a few times a year.

There are many reasons for using mulch besides the slow-release fertilizer effect. Mulch actually   moderates soil temperature, protecting plant roots from the scorching sun in summer and extreme cold in winter.

Mulch helps reduce weeds, which are unwanted competition with your plants for water, sunlight and nutrients. Mulch functions like the icing on the cake; not only can it make the garden attractive and tied together, but it holds in moisture. Another great benefit of mulch is that it can reduce disease in some situations. Many of our plant disease problems are fungus, and fungus likes to bounce from soil to leaf and vice versa when splashed with water.  

When putting mulch down, a 3- or 4-inch layer of organic mulch is ideal. Also, don’t pile it up against the trunk of the tree or stem of the plant — leave a little doughnut of space around it. 

Once your garden is fully mulched, you will feel inspired to learn more do-it-yourself gardening techniques!

Plan to attend the Denton County Master Gardener Association Fall Garden Fest on Oct. 6. This free event will be held at the Denton Bible Church campus, with lectures and educational booths from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for more information, go to

JANET LAMINACK is the horticulture county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2883. Her e-mail address is