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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - November 03, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Trees
Title: Dirt at tree base from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hello, I recently bought a home in Austin with a live oak tree which is about eight years old. The previous owner did exactly what all the experts say NOT to do, which was to mound dirt right up against the trunk, to a height of about six or eight inches. My question is this: Since this mound has been there for several years, will I do more harm than good removing the extra dirt at this point? Thanks

ANSWER:

A lot depends on just how deep the soil is around the tree trunk but you are correct that soil heaped around the base of a tree can attract fungal or insect damage. We think a good way to begin would be to start peeling that soil away and see what the trunk looks like. This article from eHow Home has a good discussion on how much is too much, and also recommends a mulch. A shallow layer (no more than 4") of a good quality shredded bark mulch will still permit the gas exchanges of carbon and oxygen necessary to the roots, decompose to assist in amending the soil for better drainage and access to nutrients in the soil, as well as protect the tree roots from heat and cold and help to retain moisture.

 

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