DIS students use recycled trees to mulch campus

Rebecca Chamberlin

More than 5,000 new students were welcomed to Iowa State through the program Destination Iowa State. As many know, Destination Iowa State is a program that introduces incoming freshman and transfer students to college life by helping them get acclimated to campus. 

However, Destination Iowa State also provides students the opportunity to perform a community service project to improve their new home. Two such projects featured landscaping grounds using mulch made from recycled trees on campus.

“The goal is to teach students that this is their campus, so that they can appreciate it and take care of it,” said Lester Lawson, manager of facilities maintenance. “It gets them involved in the community and brings awareness to campus plant material.”

According to Lawson, the trees turned into mulch were either dying or needed to be moved for construction purposes.  They also used pruned branches. 

Many of the trees recycled for mulch were green ash, dying from to the infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer beetle. Iowa State is also in the process of reducing the amount of green ash trees on campus from 20 to 8 percent to allow for species diversification.

The recycled trees are converted to mulch on campus with a chipper, and a tub grinder machine comes annually to take care of trunks too thick and large for the chipper. Five truckloads containing approximately 8 cubic yards per load of mulch were used on Central Campus during Destination Iowa State, and two truckloads were used to mulch the residence communities.

Creating mulch on campus is no more cost-effective than purchasing mulch. However, Lawson said, mulch is something needed to upkeep the grounds, and reusing trees on campus is environmentally responsible.

Mulch is beneficial to plants for a variety of reasons. 

Besides helping with weed control and limiting the need for pesticides, it conserves water. It also slows down erosion and helps keep plant and soil temperatures stable.

The mulching performed by the new students during Destination Iowa State will help keep Iowa State’s campus beautiful and sustainable.