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Expert gardener breaks down common landscaping faux pas wreaking havoc on trees: 'We see this so often; it is criminal'

"This is garbage in here."

"This is garbage in here."

Photo Credit: @youcandoitgardening / TikTok

You might think you're doing your trees a favor by using landscape fabric and layers of mulch to "protect" their roots; however, one garden expert said that many people are doing their trees a disservice by smothering them.

TikToker You Can Do It Gardening (@youcandoitgardening) posted a video of an unhappy dogwood tree suffering from poor planting techniques. The tree was planted too low, she explains. 

"Basically, you want the end of the tree — where it starts to flare out — that's what you want to be at the surface," she teaches.

Unfortunately, the root flare on this tree was buried several inches below the surface and covered in layers of mulch and landscape fabric. In the caption, the poster explains that too much mulch close to the trunk is unhealthy for a growing tree. Meanwhile, landscape fabric smothers the soil.

"This is garbage in here," she states in the video as she tosses out the mulch and fabric. "You know, it's no wonder this guy is not doing well."

She then shows a properly planted tree — with the root flare close to the ground surface and minimal mulch.

@youcandoitgardening If I were a tree I would be afraid of two big things that are all too common: too much mulch up close against my trunk and all around me, and landscape fabric smothering the soil I am planted in. Landscape fabric can be very detrimental to your plants. It can prevent adequate amounts of oxygen and healthy microorganisms that create great soil. It can also constrict root growth. And it doesn't even work to suppress weeds after the first year because the mulch blows off and seeds fly around and land and germinate wherever they can, even on the mulch that remains. Mulch "volcanoes", which are tall piles of mulch built up around tree trunks smother them. Make sure you leave plenty of space between the mulch and the trunk and don't cover the part of the tree that flares out from the tunk with too much mulch (I think 1 or 2 inches max is good. If you are planning to add more mulch to an area which already has mulch, add compost first. It will all break down and create wonderful soil for you. However, layer upon layer of mulch makes it very difficult to break down and decompose and the soil quality is bad as a result. If there isn't room to add both, you should consider removing some of the old mulch, then put down compost and mulch. I don't know what the exact issue was with this tree but please try not to use too much mulch around trees or apply landscape fabric anywhere in your garden where you care about the quality of the soil.🙏🌳 I'm not an arborist. Would anyone who is want to weigh in here about what to do next to address a tree in this kind of distress or what could be going on here? Locations: clients' houses (as always, the videos are done by clients and these were done by Edith and Liz) About me: I'm a garden coach and consultant in zone 6 in the Boston area but almost all of the principles I talk about are applicable to any garden. Go to my website on my profile to schedule consultations and more. Unfortunately I don't have time to answer all the questions so please chime in to help others if you have information to share🌸 #landscapefabric #mulch #mulchvolcano #dogwood #gardeningforbeginners #gardeningtips #gardening101 #gardencoach #goodsoil #gardentok ♬ original sound - You Can Do It Gardening

Unfortunately, this is a common error for many homeowners. Some people even pile the mulch so high that the phenomenon has been coined a "mulch volcano." 

One Redditor recently called attention to their neighbor's mulch volcanoes, which they said were "choking the life out [of]" their oak trees.

Meanwhile, an arborist posted an Instagram reel to help people avoid creating mulch volcanoes around their tree trunks.

"A tree's trunk evolved to be above ground, exposed to sun, and wants to be dry most of the time," Andrew Conboy (@andrew_the_arborist) said. "Therefore, it is critically important to mulch properly."

Trees make our communities healthier, safer, and more connected, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. They clean our air, filter our water, and help with flooding. Plus, they provide shade, cooling cities up to 10 degrees

They also support many animal species and help us fight a warming planet by pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. As such, it behooves us to learn how to plant and care for them properly.

Commenters shared disdain for tree volcanos, with many complaining about landscape fabric as well. 

One said, "Landscape fabric is the devil," with another stating, "Landscape fabric was the biggest hoax ever. It doesn't benefit any garden bed."

Meanwhile, a tree expert said this planting technique is all too common.

"Arborist here…we see this so often. It is criminal," they commented.

Another person offered a useful rhyme to help others with tree-planting depth, writing, "Plant too low, it won't grow, too high it will die." 

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