Kane Landscapes

Vertical Mulching: A Great Fall Service to Help your Trees

In a natural setting, trees are constantly helping to create their own great soil and mulch through their annual leaf drop. Leaves that fell a few years ago decompose into rich topsoil with the freshly fallen leaves acting as the new mulch layer. In this environment a healthy fibrous root system is created that gathers water and is able to easily find nutrients necessary for good growth and health.

Now, enter your lawn. Thick grass is a tree’s biggest competitor for moisture and natural nutrients. Fall leaves are removed, as to not smother the grass. Herbicides are applied annually to control weeds, and many trees are planted. New subdivisions have had the topsoil removed and are left with only the hard, Virginia red clay. The stress of these conditions can drastically reduce the growth and longevity of your trees. Since homes need both trees and lawns, what’s the best way to make these two more compatible?

One of the best ways is a time tested method of helping trees to overcome environmental stresses is called vertical mulching. This process creates columns of rich “top soil” down past the turf or ground-cover and into the soil area where tree roots can take advantage of them. Several years after vertical mulching, a careful examination of one of the columns would show thousands of new feeder roots flourishing.

What is Vertical Mulching?

Vertical mulching is the process of making many holes in the soil of the root zone of a particular tree with the purpose of creating many entryways for air, moisture, and nutrients to reach the roots of the tree.

Starting 8 ft. away from the trunk (no feeder roots are located there), holes are drilled on 3 ft. centers 15” deep in all directions. The holes should cover at least the area shaded by your tree at high noon. Feeder roots actually grow a minimum of 25% beyond this area. If this area includes your neighbor’s yard, get permission to drill on their property.


The soil that is removed from the hole is discarded and the holes back-filled halfway with a mixture of 50% peat moss and 50% course sand. The tree is measured at the diameter of the tree at chest height and 2 lbs. of 10-10-10 fertilizer is distributed evenly over the holes for every inch of tree diameter. The holes are then back filled until completely filled with the peat sand mixture.


Many trees, especially oaks and maples, have been brought back from the brink of death from proper vertical mulching. Do not expect instant results, it might be two years or more before you notice the foliage thicken and the tree get its rich leaf color back.   And if the tree is diseased or infected, vertical mulching will most likely will not cure it.   However, issues like poor soil compaction, lack of nutrients, or heavy competition for water weaken a tree and are often the cause of the initial diseases or insects infestations.


Late fall or early winter is the best time to vertical mulch. But, anytime of the year will have your trees saying thanks.  If you are interested in this great service, please give us a call and we will be happy to provide you an estimate.

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