In the early days of mulching, the process required a skilled team of craftsmen to dig out, mulch and harvest trees.
Today, the job is more akin to harvesting a crop or building a house, with many contractors doing the job themselves.
“There are still some traditional techniques that are being used,” said Lisa Binder, the chief operating officer for Mulchman, a nonprofit that helps manage mulch.
The industry, which grew in popularity in the early 1900s, has also seen a rise in popularity as the climate has warmed.
“The demand for mulching has risen dramatically,” Binder said.
Mulching costs are increasing, too.
“As more trees are harvested, it’s more expensive,” Bester said.
The new industry has attracted the attention of the federal government, with the USDA looking at improving its efficiency, Binder noted.
Mulch industry officials hope that Congress will approve legislation that would make the mulch industry more transparent and less prone to fraud.
That could lead to stricter rules on the industry, she said.
“We think the public will see through the sham,” Bender said.
Some experts believe that if mulch producers can be more transparent, it will make the process more efficient.
“It’s not a perfect process,” Barger said.
But she said the new technology will be more cost-effective and will help farmers.
“That will lead to higher prices for the consumer,” she said, “and we’ll have a more competitive marketplace.”
The mulching world’s growing popularity is fueling another industry: wood-trimming.
A survey of wood-cutters in California by the California Department of Forestry found that nearly 80 percent of respondents had heard of mulch, said Lisa Mazzuca, a state forestry commissioner.
Mulches, she added, can be cheaper than traditional wood-cutting because of their lower labor costs and lower environmental impact.
Mulched trees cost about the same as traditional wood and are also less susceptible to weathering.
Mulchesters are more likely to choose traditional trees because they typically do not have the time to dig a hole, build a roof or build a fence, Mazzaco said.
They are more prone to damage from the wind, rain and other weathering conditions.
Mazzillo said there are many reasons why wood-limiting methods can be less costly than traditional methods, including the fact that wood-removal products are more environmentally friendly.
“When it comes to mulching,” she added.
“you can have a lot of things going on that don’t affect the tree itself, but when it comes down to it, it does impact the tree.”