Sheet Mulch Planting: dramatically reduced pesticide use and 100% guaranteed establishment

Mulch it, Plant it, Leave It!

No forester needs to be enlightened about the attraction of a woodland that can be planted, then simply left alone, safe in the knowledge that no beating up or maintenance will be required. They all know how often the perfect spraying day comes round!


The Sheet Mulcher has been in operation since May 2001. The tractor-drawn device lays 0.95 metre wide compostable matting with a layer of mulch on top simultaneously in a continuous strip. This is a pre-planting, long-term treatment and can thus be administered at almost any time of year and well in advance of the planting itself. In this way, the best can be made of ground conditions and where it is applied directly on top of grass, the sward will have ‘died off’ completely before planting.

The matting currently being used is made from plant-based polymer and is 100% compostable. The current formula is designed to give a working life of up to 3 years, depending on site, soil etc.  On most sites it will reduce herbicide applications by 80%.

The mulch that holds the matting in place is currently all derived from composted Green Waste and is all PAS 100 approved.

The combined function of the matting and mulch is to:

  • Greatly reduce competition from weeds.
  • Retain moisture.
  • Control soil temperature.
  • Release nutrients.

Planting is very elementary and thus cheap. The contractor simply walks down the treated strip planting through it as he/she goes. No lining out and no screefing is required. Planters achieve 1,000 trees per working man day as a matter of course.

Woods were first planted using a thermodegradeable matting in 2005 and results, measured in both strike rate and growth rate, have surpassed all expectations. One of the woodlands established in 2005 received the RFS Gold Award for Excellence in Silviculture in 2017.

The aim of finding an alternative, competitive system to mainstream practice has been achieved.

Reducing the need for summer maintenance is of great benefit to important ground nesting bird species such as the woodlark, nightjar and grey partridge, as they are not disturbed. The partridges and other game birds have proven fond of dusting in the mulch.

Environmentally, the system is extremely sound, as it complies with principles and criteria of FSC and UKWAS for sustainable forest management, particularly in terms of the reduction of the use of pesticides.

Enhanced Growth Rate of up to 20% is achieved through the use of this system. As the local Forestry Commission operations manager observed, “This is the first time that I have inspected a new plantation, in Year One, and felt as though I’m walking through a wood”.

The attractiveness of Enhanced Growth Rate has been amplified of late by three important factors:

  1. the explosion of the firewood market; profitable thinnings are achieved by year 11.
  2. the explosion of the deer population; the vigour and speed of growth allows a reduction in fencing costs.
  3. carbon trading; accelerated yield class and ease of verification.


The cost of the ‘one off’ treatment, supplied and laid, costs around  £1.50 per m2 or linear metre depending on the size of the site where the PAS 100 green waste is used or around £2.00/m2 if virgin bark mulch is used.

New Woods are currently advocating spacing the trees at 1.2m in 4m rows. Planting to this specification, and even 5m x 1.5m under the old Woodland Grant Scheme, where the specification read “no fewer than 1100 or 2250 stems/ha, evenly distributed”, has produced some very impressive (award winning), productive and attractive young woodland that is easy to manage.

The Sheet Mulcher is a stand alone service for all those who design and plant their own or other people’s woods.

England Woodland Creation Offer compliant!

A grant of £1.79 per mulch mat (i.e. per tree) is available through DEFRA.