The Importance of Mulching your Trees

Mulch done right!

By Andrew Land

If you’re looking to learn far more about the importance of mulching trees than you knew before, then you’ve come to the right place! Other than watering, there’s arguably nothing better you could do to help your new tree get established than add a layer of mulch. Many think that mulch just makes newly planted trees look pretty, but the truth is that it serves several key functions all at once.

Before we even begin, what qualifies as mulch? The quick answer is that more or less any organic matter serves as mulch, from wood chips, to compost, to straw. Carbon is nature’s “sponge,” and in very general terms, organic matter that is brown (dry leaves, twigs, wood chips, straw) is primarily carboniferous and can hold available moisture to feed growing tree roots. In very hot climates, even rocks can be used to shade soil and make condensation available for tree roots, but rocks don’t do nearly as much in terms of imparting nutrition as organic mulches do.

For people, nutrients are either fat or water-soluble, but trees get all that they need from water. Mulches both hold that moisture for trees’ use and are arguably the best way to fertilize a young tree by providing slow-release nutrition that leaches down to the roots below with rain. Read More

Treemail: January 2020

News from Friends of Trees

We need LOTS of tree planters in February!

See the Get Involved section at the end for details

January 2020

Partnering with Community Benefit Organizations

to plant trees + grow community

“CBO partnerships are especially important for an environmental organization like Friends of Trees because they help us effectively reach low income communities and communities of color, communities that are impacted first and the most by climate change.”

-Surabhi Mahajan,

Friends of Trees’ Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Specialist

Trees + community is so much more than volunteers planting trees together. True community means that a diverse population has access to all of the benefits of trees, especially historically under-served communities of color. And in order to reach diverse communities we need a diverse range of partnerships.

Friends of Trees is fortunate to enjoy some amazing partnerships, and some particularly amazing partnerships are with Community Benefit Organizations (CBOs). CBOs are community-based nonprofit organizations, are often culturally specific, and provide some sort of community benefit. An example in Portland is Verde, which among other services provides workforce training for the Latinx community.

Friends of Trees’ CBO partners include Verde, Wisdom of the EldersBlack Parent Initiative, the Blueprint Foundation, APANOand POIC. Most of these organizations are partners in our Urban Forestry Training Program*, which helps connect adults to jobs in the Urban Forestry field (learn more about this program here). Beyond this joint endeavor our CBO partnerships take a few forms:

Verde and Wisdom of the Elders each support our tree planting work through planting event preparation, participation, and follow-up, including post-planting tree care. Verde also provides some contractor services at our Portland office on NE MLK Jr. Blvd (get to know more about Wisdom in the next story).

Black Parent Initiative is a community-based organization that serves Black families or families with Black children through home care visits, economic job opportunities, and other services. The FOT-BPI partnership supports connecting Black families in Portland to nature and to tree planting events, as well as connecting to job training programs in the urban forestry and restoration sector.

The Grounding Waters program of the Blueprint Foundation exposes Black urban youth to careers in environmental science, and paid workforce training with Friends of Trees is part of the program. Grounding Water youth train and participate in planting events as Crew Leaders; Grounding Waters youth will also train and participate as Summer Inspectors, checking on the health of trees planted through our Neighborhood Trees Program, which will provide additional learning opportunities. * Note: The Blueprint Foundation is not a current partner in the Urban Forestry Training program, but is considering the program.

Pictured above: Urban Forestry Training Program participants from project partners POIC, APANO, Wisdom of the Elders, Verde, the Black Parent Initiative, and the Pathways to Farming program.

Get to Know Our Partnership with Wisdom of the Elders

“Partnering with Friends of Trees has helped teach Wisdom interns management skills; we learn how to manage a business, how to engage with business people, it prepares everybody for employment.” – Alvey Seeyouma, Wisdom Workforce Development Program Coordinator and Crew Leader Supervisor 

The Wisdom of the Elders-Friends of Trees partnership began four years ago when our Neighborhood Trees Program needed some post-planting help. We had a number of street trees that didn’t get planted at a Saturday planting event and we were able to contract with Wisdom Workforce to plant those trees.

Soon after that first partnership experience, Wisdom hosted a community conversation for its partners, toward sharing information about how best to partner together in a way that is thoughtful and respectful. We participated in a Talking Circle, where there was honest communication about the native perspective on the dominant culture and environmental issues.

The partnership grew, and Wisdom’s post-planting support evolved to include mulching newly planted trees. Wisdom participants also began engaging on planting day, through training and participating as Crew Leaders, which provided opportunities for the organizations to work together more closely. We’ve now added pruning as a partnership element, providing even more hands on tree care experience.

Wisdom Workforce Program Coordinator Alvey Seeyouma participated in the Urban Forestry Training Program and, through that program, interned with Friends of Trees. Alvey says that the benefits of the partnership extend beyond Friends of Trees and Wisdom of the Elders, “Oh my gosh, I think our partnership benefits all communities. It helps the Wisdom crew leaders become more comfortable with their engagement with the community, so it benefits everyone.” He lists some more benefits of the partnership, “Wisdom interns are learning new skills through the community tree planting events. They’re learning about tree identification, planting techniques, and about community engagement through training as Crew Leaders.”

What would Alvey want folks to know about Friends of Trees? “Friends of Trees is a great organization. Everyone in the office, they’re so helpful, so kind and generous. They want everyone’s experience to be positive; they’ve offered so much training, which we are so grateful for.” Friends of Trees is equally grateful for the opportunity to enhance our organization and our community tree planting events through partnering with Alvey and everyone at Wisdom of the Elders.

Wisdom of the Elders records and preserves traditional cultural values, oral history, prophesy and other messages of guidance from indigenous elders in order to regenerate the greatness of culture among today’s and future generations of native peoples. Learn more at

Pictured above: Matt, Bruce, Dave and Will of Wisdom of the Elders at a recent SE Portland tree planting event.


News from Friends of Trees Eugene

Thanks to our partner City of Eugene Parks & Open Space Division, sponsor Mountain Rose Herbs, and more than 140 community volunteers, Friends of Trees Eugene hosted a very special MLK Day of Service.

On January 20, 79 trees were planted in Westmoreland City Park and nearby south Eugene neighborhoods. AmeriCorps volunteer Anna shared her thoughts about volunteering on this day of service with local news station KEZI, which covered the event,

“Service is such an important thing because it brings communities together … It really gives places an opportunity to flourish and brings everyone together that would never meet each other.”

Special shout out to the various volunteer groups who helped contribute to a record-breaking number of volunteers for a Eugene FOT planting event. We were joined by groups from local Girl Scout troops, Starbucks, Springfield Wayfair, PAE Consulting Engineers, U of O students, and the Boys and Girls Club.

Join us at our next event! We’ll be planting street and yard trees in Eugene and Springfield neighborhoods on February 1st, details about that event and others are in our Eugene planting calendar. We look forward to planting trees with you!

Remembering Commissioner Nick Fish

“Imagine if our trees got organized and sent us a monthly bill, reflecting benefits of a hearty tree canopy! Think what we’d pay for the shade, the clean air and water, the water they keep out of our stormwater system, the increases in property values, the aesthetic value – the list goes on and on! It turns out the benefits of trees are priceless.”

– From Commissioner Fish’s remarks

when he received Friends of Trees’ 2018 Community Partner award

Friends of Trees lost an incredible friend when Commissioner Nick Fish passed away on January 2. In his twelve years on the Portland City Council he made sure to take the time to get to know our programming and the importance of urban trees and green infrastructure. As Commissioner of the Bureau of Environmental Services and of the Parks bureau, he listened to our challenges, celebrated our successes, and advocated for this important community work. He strived to make Portland a healthier and more equitable place to live, and as we plant thousands of trees this year, we will remember him and be grateful for his leadership and friendship.


We love Madelyn’s note and we, in turn, thank YOU for helping us keep our world healthy. To everyone who donated to our recent fundraising campaign, and to our Give!Guide partners HOTLIPS Pizza and Level Beer – THANK YOU! We can’t do this without you.


ALL HANDS ON DECK! It’s the height of planting season and we need your help planting in February. Get outside, be with community, and let’s get some trees planted!

The following events really need some extra volunteer love:

February 1 at Ghost Creek in North Plains; Sandy River Delta

February 8 in Happy Valley; Gateway Green in NE Portland; Westside Vancouver; Creston-Kenilworth area of SE Portland

February 22 & 29 in the Eugene-Springfield area

… and so many more!

Please visit the Portland Metro area planting calendar or the Eugene-Springfield calendar for exact locations and for more opportunities for you to make a difference through planting trees, together.

Friends of Trees inspires people to improve the natural

world around them through a simple solution:

Planting Trees. Together.

(503) 282-8846: Portland office

(541) 632-3683: Eugene office

Learn more about how Friends of Trees greens our region + grows community through checking out other issues of Treemail here

Tree Care Guide

New Tree Care Guide

Learn how to help your new tree thrive.

Congratulations on planting a new tree!

Your young tree should provide you with many years of enjoyment and environmental benefits. Friends of Trees encourages you to read the following information carefully and to take good care of your tree to help it thrive.


Trees need to be watered regularly during their first three summers after planting to survive. Water newly planted trees with 10-15 gallons of water once a week throughout the summer and during other dry spells. A dry spell can be characterized by two to three weeks without significant rainfall in the summer or winter.

Water slowly so that moisture soaks deeply into the soil and water doesn’t run away from the root zone. Mulching is a great way to hold water in the soil for your new trees. Our videos offer quick tips on how to use slow-drip watering systems such the five-gallon drilled bucket to water your trees more effectively.


Mulch reduces evaporation, delivers organic nutrients, and helps prevent the growth of weeds. It is very important to mulch your new trees. Mulching prevents lawn mowers and string trimmers from getting close to the tree and damaging the trunk, which is the number two cause of tree failure. Mulching is second to watering in importance to the health of newly planted trees.

But be sure to pull the mulch away from the bark of the tree in a three-inch radius to prevent fungus growth or infection. Remember the 3-3-3 Rule: 3 inches away from the trunk of the tree, 3 inches deep, in about a 2-3 foot radius. Do not “Volcano Mulch” your tree by piling mulch up against the bark.

Removing Weeds & Grass

Keep all weeds, grass and other plants 18″ from the trunk of your new tree.

Weeds and grass in your tree’s root zone absorb water and nutrients that should be reaching the tree’s roots. They can greatly stress your new trees by creating a tougher establishment zone.

Removing weeds by hand reduces the risk of trunk damage from lawn mowers and string trimmers—a leading cause of urban tree failure.


Properly pruning your tree is critical for its health and survival; below is a quick guide to pruning your tree. Interested in a more in-depth pruning guide? Visit our pruning page here.

Pruning basics

A young tree needs all the nutrition it can get from its leaves to develop strong roots, so during the first year after planting, only broken or dead branches should be pruned.

Sucker growth, young shoots growing from the base of the tree, should be removed at ALL times.

In the second year or third year, if the tree is growing well, structural pruning can be considered and is recommended. Street trees in the cities of Portland and Vancouver require a permit through Urban Forestry to prune.

There are several important keys to properly pruning young trees. Remember, you can always hire a certified arborist, and be sure to take a minute to check out these two great resources before you start pruning: Arbor Day Foundation’s Animated Pruning Guide and Ed Gilman’s Developing a Preventative Pruning Program: Young Trees. With proper structural pruning, your tree will truly become an asset, and living legacy, to the rest of the city.

Never top your tree

Topping is the indiscriminate removal of a tree’s branches to stubs and is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known; yet, topped trees are still a common sight.

Not only does topping result in tree stress, decay, hazard and sunburn; it’s also ugly and expensive. Once you top a tree, you resign yourself forever to a maintenance treadmill as your tree rapidly declines and becomes increasingly costly to care for.

Have you recently planted a fruit tree? Here are the basics of fruit tree pruning.

Powdery mildew is common on Oregon White Oaks, but it rarely causes any more than cosmetic damage.
Rust fungus is common on serviceberries in wet seasons

Insects & Disease

Friends of Trees chooses trees based on their resistance to insect and disease, but if you think your tree has a problem, resources are available to help you find a solution.

Contact your local Extension office. The Cooperative Extension Service is a collaboration between the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, state and local governments, and land-grant universities. Every U.S. county has an Extension office to deliver research-based information on gardening, agriculture, and pest control to the general public. You can find your local Extension office using a map on the website for the National Pesticide Information Center.

Ask a nursery. Bring a leaf or twig from your tree to your local retail nursery.

Hire an ISA-certified arborist. You can find a list of arborists certified by the International Society of Arboriculture who support Friends of Trees on our arborist page.

Friends of Trees does have ISA-certified arborists on staff, but as a non-profit, our time is dedicated to planting and establishing trees and we unfortunately do not have the capacity to spend the appropriate time to properly diagnose and treat insects and diseases.

Stakes & Twine

Keep your tree staked and twined for  a year after planting to provide support during storms and to provide protection from foot traffic or car doors. After about a year, twine and stakes should be removed. Loosen any ties if they become tight around the trunk or begin to chafe away the bark. This can cut off the nutrient and water flow to the tree.

Feeling Stumped?

Feel free to give us a call at 503-595-0212 or shoot us an email at [email protected] with your question or a description of your problem, along with a photo and your street address. We’ll do what we can to help!

Didn’t plant your tree with Friends of Trees? We’d love to help, but as a non-profit our capacity is limited to supporting tree planters who participate in our planting program. We recommend contacting your municipality’s urban forestry department.

Four tips to help your young fruit tree thrive

Give your young fruit tree a little extra attention now and it will pay you back with a generous harvest for many years.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Start shaping a healthy branch structure now. The first season, scope out four to seven solid, lateral branches that will be your heavyweight fruit holders in years to come. The goal is to have evenly spaced branches, starting with the lowest one 2-3 feet from the ground and spiraling up the trunk 1-2 feet apart. This will let in sunlight to ripen fruit and dry off moisture, and allow air to circulate to prevent fungal diseases. Once you’ve selected your good branches, you can decide which competing branches to remove. Here’s a must-read article about pruning young fruit trees.

    Radial spacing of branches
    Strive for evenly spaced branches radially and vertically that will be your heavyweight fruit holders.
  1. Avoid common pruning mistakes. Number one is probably cutting too close to the trunk and injuring the tree at the branch collar. Here are some more pruning mistakes you can avoid.

    Branch bark ridge
    Keep your pruning cuts away from the trunk, where you could damage the branch collar, where the healing hormones live.
  1. Mulch, mulch, mulch. A mounded doughnut of bark, compost or dried leaves will help your tree retain moisture and nutrients. We keep a free pile of mulch at our office! Here are more mulching tips.

    Great mulch ring guys!
    Great mulch ring guys!
  2. Clean up your fruit. After harvest season, try not to leave fruit on the ground over the winter, because that’s where a lot of pests can live.

If you want to dig a little deeper, check out upcoming fruit tree care workshops hosted by the Portland Fruit Tree Project. Happy harvesting!

3 ways (and free tools) to show a tree some love right now

Tree Sweater. Wikipedia / ShrewdcatIt doesn’t need a box of chocolates, a back rub or a hand-knit sweater (though that is pretty cute). But here are a few things you can do to show a tree some love this season:

1. Treat it to a drink… of water, that is. During dry spells—we’ve had a few this winter—trees need 10-15 gallons of water per week. Here’s a video of how to hack a five-gallon bucket for an easy drip irrigation system.

2. Give it a warm blanket… of mulch—2 to 3 inches of compost, dried leaves or wood chips will do. Like a blanket, mulch regulates soil temperature to help roots establish and grow. It holds water in the soil and slow-releases nutrition for your tree as it rains. We maintain a pile of FREE mulch at our office, just come by and get some! Learn how to mulch

3. Set it up on a date… with an arborist. Even if your tree doesn’t need maintenance right now, you can establish a trusted relationship you can turn to down the road when you have questions about your tree. We recommend this list of Friends of Trees’ partner arborists to get you started.

Happy tree lovin’! Here are some more tree care basics