July 11

How Rubber Mulch Rings Impact Your Trees



Do you have sick trees? We offer plant health care assessments to show how you can take better care of your trees.

Menchhofer Tree Care has been making trees in the Indy area healthy for 40 years.

Call today for a free estimate!

We offer plant health care assessments to show you how to take better care of your trees.

Call for a free estimate!

Often, you’ll hear that one of the best things that you can do for your trees is to put rubber mulch rings around them. In many cases, adding a rubber mulch ring will cure many problems that you have. Mulch really does do quite a bit of good for your trees – it reduces the amount of weeds in the soil around the tree, helps with moisture retention, maintains soil temperature, and it looks better than the plain ground.

However, the problem isn’t with mulch – the problem is with the rubber mulch rings that so many people have around their trees. While many think that these are the best way to improve your tree’s health, it might actually have the opposite impact.

Yes, rubber mulch rings are easier to lay than natural mulch.

Yes, they are easier to buy than natural mulch.

However, rubber mulch rings have a few disadvantages that may make you reconsider your rubber mulch:

Adds Soil to the Trunk

Soil on tree trunk
Credit: Johhny Boy A
  • Builds up moisture around the trunk of the tree
  • Causes tree bark to decay and soften
  • Spreads diseases easily

One of the biggest reasons that people get mulch rings is to make their yards look more uniform and beautiful – but what is happening under those rings? Everything is heating up and creating a cesspool of toxins. As that heats up, your tree’s trunk and any visible roots start to get softer and warmer.

Soil is bad for your tree. SFGate explains why: “Soil added around a tree reduces the amount of oxygen available to the roots and slows the rate of gas exchange in and around the roots. There may be less moisture and nutrients available to the roots or too much moisture may remain around the tree’s roots. Inadequate oxygen reaching the roots or microorganisms in the soil around the roots can lead to an accumulation of chemicals that can injure tree roots. The tree’s bark may decay where soil is newly in contact with it. Damage or injury to the tree because of the added soil may not become apparent for several months or years and generally appears as a slow decline followed by death.”

Oxygen Supply Gets Cut Off

Trees with mulch
Credit: cbgrfx123
  • Your roots need oxygen in order to survive
  • Tree growth will stunt
  • Eventually, suffocation can occur

All plants, including trees, need oxygen to survive. This is because without access to clean oxygen, the trees cannot perform something called aerobic respiration and photosynthesis.  This process uses water, carbon dioxide, and the sun’s energy to produce oxygen as well as sugar. This happens all over the tree, but not in the roots, according to USCB Science Line.

The tree is able to get air from the dirt near the roots to perform photosynthesis that low – but with mulch, it is more likely that the soil is compacted and doesn’t have as much air. The soil stays moist and compacted no matter what the weather is – and the mats keep it that way. Some people think that the soggy earth underneath the mat is great because it means the roots are getting water – but that isn’t the only thing that a tree needs. This is why you can easily overwater things like trees or potted plants – because it has nowhere to go but toward the roots, where the tree will drown.

Root Girding

Credit: Photos By Angela
  • Leads to excessive dieback
  • Eventually leads to scorch
  • Makes tree susceptible to other diseases

When a tree is girdled, there is something wrapped tightly around the trunk. In this case, it could be the rubber mulch mat. This mat grows closer to the base of the tree or, if buried, can do so underground. Girdling is dangerous because it cuts off the flow of nutrients and water to the rest of the tree. Sure, some water and nutrients get to the tree, but not enough for the tree to be healthy. Over time, your tree will start to die.

Your tree will start to look very, very different when it has been impacted by a girdling root. Usually, the tree’s trunk will start to flare out near the ground. The roots will sometimes impede the look of the flare and instead, you might see the tree getting narrower, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. They say that, “The threat depends on the size of the root and the amount of the tree’s circumference affected. It is almost impossible to predict if a developing girdling root will cause problems for a tree. However, if a tree has girdling roots it is more likely to have problems than one without them.”

There are so many other options other than rubber mulch mats to help your tree look and feel beautiful. While this is an easy option in the short term, it isn’t going to be the best option for you in the long term. You are only going to have other problems down the line – problems that will require much more work than a simple project like spreading natural mulch around your tree.

Note that some of these problems can occur with natural mulch as well, though they aren’t nearly as common. You have to be careful when you spread mulch and you need to always monitor your tree for any problems that you see.

Contact Menchhofer Tree Care for all of your tree care needs – we can help you at any stage of the tree process, from planting and taking care of your tree to pruning and cutting it down – and of course, watering your trees. If you are having trouble making mulching decisions, we can also be there to help you with laying mulch, finding the right mulch for you, and even cleaning up if the mulch doesn’t work.

Call us today at 317-661-4240.

Header photo courtesy of Ian D. Keating on Flickr!

Menchhofer Tree Care

About Steve Menchhofer

Steve Menchhofer has been caring for the trees of the Indianapolis, Indiana metro area for over 40 years. Steve and his team of experienced, certified arborists are members of the International Society of Arboriculture and the Indiana Arborist Association.

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