Growing Concerns 563: City-made compost, volcano mulch, ash replacements


This week we're into black gold, volcanoes, ash, and hard pruning!


We just wanted to say we're so excited about compost being available in our city. Our department of public works is composting and we can go pick up what we need. We want all our neighbors to know so the program continues!
- D.S., and J.C. -

I understand your excitement at having this resource. For years, gardeners have envied cities with compost programs for the residents.

For those who do not have access to compost through their own DPW, call landscape supply firms and ask for it. The more we ask, the more likely it is that our suppliers will wise up and begin buying it in bulk from wholesale producers, or citys will begin creating programs.

(Some people do have concerns about municipal compost and other compost produced on a large scale...)


Green thumbs up to great growers

to all those people who don't have to but do stay in the growing business so we can benefit from their long lifetime experience. 


Green thumbs down to mulch volcanoes


We're talkin' grrrrrrrrreen! Mulch against the trunk and deeper than 3 inches is certain death for a tree. I've thumbed this down for four years but it seems the offenders are not listening. Perhaps it's time to mobilize our forces, gardeners, and start going out to talk to the crews we see stacking mulch deep around and against the trunks of trees. If the perpetrators won't listen, send me the company name so I can start a Landscape Company Hall of Shame list.





2012 update to this report originally made in 2004:

It's occurred to us that trees need a champion, someone to stand up and say, "Stamp out volcano mulching" and have the impact that movie star Christopher Lloyd had in raising awareness of spinal injuries, or Lady Bird Johnson had for the native plant movement.

So far, we can't think of the right person, but we're taking suggestions at the Forum!

SmokeySaksNoVolcanos.jpg  TeddySaysNoVolcano.jpg

Short reports

Don't tell me you're planting maples!

It's nice that you write to thank me for sending you the list of tree species to replace ash trees, but please don't credit me that your "neighborhood is choosing red maple." Maples are not on my list, for good reason. They're beautiful trees but vastly overplanted, making up 50 percent of the urban forest in many cities. Ashes are only 11 percent of the landscape yet the devastation wrought by the current plague of emerald ash borer is awesome. If you don't live in or near a formerly tree-lined neighborhood which now has no street trees, you will soon! 

This will happen again. It happened to Lombardy poplar and black locust in the 1800's and to billions of American chestnut and American elm in the 1900's. Unbroken acres and miles of single-species plantings made the spread of each disease or insect more sure and swift. In the replanting we do now, gardeners need to take the lead in lobbying for diversity as a defense.

Copies of my list of less common trees that are good replacements for ash, including full descriptions and local sources for these trees, are available in exchange for a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope plus one loose stamp to cover copy costs. Send the envelope to me at the address at the end of this column.


Prune harder, less often.

For less work, work smarter. If you take up hedge shears and prune your shrubs three or four times each summer, taking off three or four inches each time, break the cycle. Cut them now by 12 inches. It's a deep cut but have no fear. Everything except juniper, arborvitae, pine and spruce can take it.

  Originally published 4/24/04.