GARDEN

8 Reasons to use Wood Chips in the Garden

wood chips for the garden

Wood Chips – Mulch Method

This will work in any garden. Though it’s especially easy and beneficial in a raised garden bed. Here are several benefits from adding wood chips to the garden.

Wood Chips Save Water

Wood chips will slow the process of water evaporation. It will help prevent loss of water from the soil.

Wood Chips Keep Weeds Down

Weeds have difficulty emerging from under a cover of chips.

Stable Soil Temperature

The soil will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Thus maintaining a more even soil temperature.

Prevent Disease From Splashing Water

It will also prevent the splashing of soil-borne disease onto the plants. Tip: pruning lower branches helps a lot too!

Nutrients Added To Soil

Decaying mulch from wood chips releases its nutrients into the soil.

Prevents Soil Compaction

Helps prevent crusting of the soil surface. Thus improving the absorption of water into the soil.

Better Roots

Mulched plants apparently produce more roots.

Aesthetics

It will make your garden look great!

I’ve read recommendations to only apply wood chips to established plants rather than around seedlings. I’ve also read when using bark on a new garden, you can apply a thick layer before you plant. But when you are ready to set your seeds or starts, pull back just enough bark to drop your plants in.

Also, it may affect the pH of your soil to a small extent. This probably depends on what kind of chips you’re using (from what kind of tree or bark).

Another tip: Cedar apparently works well for insect control too. Black Walnut is to be avoided.

Well, there you have it. Short and sweet. The benefits of mulching your garden.

I have a small chipper that connects to the PTO on my tractor. I use it occasionally when dealing with smallish trees or branches around the property (max ~ 4 or 5 inches diameter). Free mulch!

Anyway, I’m sure that some of you use this method too…

[ Read: Garden Hat – The Many Hats of a Gardener ]

[ Read: Best Wood For Heating ]

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37 Comments

  1. Just make sure the mulch or wood chips you are using come from disease and insect free wood before introducing into your garden area.
    The tree cutters that come around and see if you would like free wood chips are usually not the best source… Most of the time they are taking down old diseased trees and chipping them up. Think fugus, virus, bacteria, bore insects, leaf blithe.

    No you can compost free wood chipping of unknown origins. think big pile of chippings saturate water weekly turn monthly cover over with a tarp. After a year you can safely use it again.

  2. Great information. I have a chipper but also do quite a bit of work in my woodshop. After a week or so of wood turning on my lathe I usually end up with ten or fifteen gallons of trimmings, shavings, and thick sawdust, all from natural, untreated wood. Do you think that would work or could there be a possibility of the sawdust molding? Thanks for what you do. Long time reader, very rare commenter…..

    1. Be careful with walnut. They have a chemical that when oxidized becomes Juglone. That chemical will inhibit growth of other plants.

  3. Also some wood is more acid and has tannins that until broken down might affect certain plants growth. Oak would be one.

  4. There are some great videos online that second Kens statements above. A lot of “back to eden” garden includes wood chips.
    I think one of my favorite lines from one of the documentaries is “I bought this land to turn into a homestead, the soil was dry, vegetation was dead, someone before me overturned the soil with the same ideas I had. I looked around and asked God, how did you do it? how am I supposed to farm harvest from this land?” He said then “after looking around I finally opened my ears to listen. I seen the lush wilderness thriving here. Trees, brush, mushrooms, everything. What did it have in common, letting the earth treat itself” he was speaking on natural composting. Leaves and needles would fall, branches and sticks lined the ground- creating rich nutrients for the foliage. He the began using wood chips and leaves. Pretty interesting stuff!

    1. Last summar I purchased 16,000 lbs. of used mushroom compost and plowed it under in my garden. The compost was about 25% chicken manure, 25% rice hulls, and the rest was ground up wood chips with ground up cotton seed. This cost me a total of $400. The result this spring was a garden that grew of of control. The garden grew so much food that I could not give it away fast enough. The owner of the mushroom farm said this would last the garden years. Gardening is so much fun when this happens.
      I had the compost tested for cotton field pesticide/herbicide at Texas A. and M. before I used it but there was none. I guess it all went into the mushrooms – what a sick thought.

      1. Texas Boy,
        you’re so full of shit I’m surprised that you could not compost it yourself

      2. Ken,
        It looks like we have a new troll (Native Nevadan) working your web site. Or perhaps the sun has cooked his brain!

      3. Our in-town neighbor enjoyed the surplus from our garden and offered to bring some chicken manure from his farm. We accepted. Big mistake. The manure was full of weed seed. I guess when he was asking about twenty four D ( 2-4-D) use I should have considered his farming skills. That was 5 years ago. This is the first year I’m not overwhelmed by the weeds. So be careful with chicken manure.

      4. One very dry summer I put two tractor buckets of dried cow manure in my parents garden. My parents didn’t use that garden that year. I shoveled and raked and it resulted in a good four or five inch layer. I was worried I put on too much. Next spring, rototilled the garden. Ohhh boy. The tomatoes were huge for the next couple years. One tomatoe would supply four in the household for a couple of BLT’s each.
        Ohhh yeah, it was tough keeping on top of the weeds for a few years.

  5. Something similar we do here in our gardens. My wife tracks down heavy cardboard boxes, trims them up, removes all tape, and lays them down in our rows and between plants. We then cover that with shredded bark mulch (close to chips) which we get from a local mill at $10/yd. Works great once you get the cardboard down. Nice thing is you just till it all in and it adds a lot to your soil as Ken was saying and you get all the hard work done at once rather than having to weed an entire garden on a daily basis. Good luck out there, going to need all that wonderful produce this year I think.

  6. Good info again. Just be aware that the free wood chips from your local road department, or the company that trims the sides of the roads, may have poison ivy in it.

  7. I viewed the “Back to Eden” series years ago….. and have used it ever since. Going through somewhat of a drought here and have not once watered plants. They don’t need it. The soil beneath the chips is still damp from the last rain. Bugs go after the moisture on the leaves of which there ain’t any with this method. In the dead of winter I can go 8 inches down and pull out a hand full of night crawlers, meaning the worms are working the soil year round. They don’t have to go deep in the winter.
    You want the “random” chips from the tree guys cause it will give you a neutral ph.
    As far as bugs, mold, deceased wood etc. that is what you want. That is exactly what is in nature to build the soil. And I am a dirt builder. Look on the forest floor. Adonai is showing you exactly how to grow things the easy way.
    About Oct. – Nov. I collect leaves from my property. The leaves contain the trace minerals from the deep ground. I apply 12 to 18 inches of those leaves to the top of my garden. Give it the PHD – pile it high and deep. Next I broadcast wood ash. Wood ash is the unburned trace minerals from wood. I then add about an 8 inch covering of wood chips. Come May I’ve got the best growing dirt you can find. Peel back the layer of chips and plant the seeds in your new dirt. When sprouts are big enough, cover stems with chips. Weeds will only grow from the top and they can not firmly root. Just scrape off with rake. Forget watering, weeding, fertilizers.etc.. Just plant and pick when ready. Lazy mans garden. Work smart…. not hard. I have even taught some Amish friends how to do this and they love it cause it works. Spend your time doing something else and let the garden do its thing. It don’t need you.

    1. Great idea Soul.

      That thick layer of leaves will also mat down and help prevent weed growth.

      1. Yep. Weeds will only start from the top – birds pooping seeds. Walk through your garden once a week with your rake dragging behind you and you have just weeded your garden. Love it cause I am lazy. Take care.

        1. Soul
          As you said, ‘work smarter, not harder’.
          I wouldn’t call it lazy just being more efficient with ones time.

          Regards

  8. I’ve gotten I think 8 loads of woodchips through getchipdrop in the last three years. I wish I could do more, but Dad put his foot down. He doesn’t think we need them.

    Before: Sand and rock, dry within a few hours of watering, no organics, way too much water used. No insects, no worms, and when I checked the soil under a microscope there was nothing alive. No fungi, no nematodes, no bacteria. Nothing.

    Now: Good soil, stays damp underneath the woodchips for several days if watered. If not watered, water from the winter stays at least until mid July, longer if the woodchips are deeper. Organics are working their way deeper into the soil. Lots of insects and beginning to see insect predators. Worms are hard at work. I water the woodchip areas at most once a week. Dry garden doesn’t get watered, and thrives with pumpkins, tomatoes, sunchokes, summer squash and watermelon.

    While I do sort the piles for invasives, I specified certain woods I would not accept. I have had no problems with imported insects or diseases. Fungus is OK–I actually want that, to break down the wood.

    1. The dense organic matter is what makes hugelcuture work so well,, acts like a sponge. I have a couple areas on our place that the soil has really low organic matter in it, dries out in a day if not hours after a rain, added chips to one area and tilled it in, now soil is looking way better and holds moisture. Funny how the old timers are isnt it. My mom is like that too, i let my borders grow a little crazy, she hates it, but i really dont have pest problems, good diversity makes for a good garden, not the democrats diversity, but real diversity in nature

      1. Yeah, Dad’s a 1940’s farmboy — everything has to be in straight lines, nothing will grow without tilling/fertilizer, all insects are enemies, and polycultures are dangerous. SMH

  9. We have a lot of cedar out here and I use a lot. It smells so nice. Dogs are on a thick bed of cedar. Keeps down dust and they’ve never had a flea. . . . .

    In the garden areas I use cedar on paths between raised beds but find fresher cedar inhibits plant growth. . . .

    When using it to add organic matter I add an equal amount of coffee grounds (green) to the cedar (brown) to balance and hasten decay.

    1. don’t put cedar in your chicken houses. something about it will kill your chickens quick. don’t know why, but it will

          1. It might be the age of the cedar chips. Fresh cedar will still have oils which are toxic verse dried cedar, which might be less toxic. My brother in law found out the hard way concerning the toxin when he was cutting down some cedar trees without protective gear.

        1. Cedar chips ,,,,,have a cedar mill close ,we get what we call peelers ,ground bark have used that for years to sop up mud in chicken house ,works great for that and takes care of lice on the birds. No ill effect on the birds I can tell
          But can flavor eggs in nest box,ungood ,,,,
          Instead of chips from a chipper we like planings from a cabinet shop for nest box’s
          every so often a bale of wheat grass hay helps to keep things clean ,
          A can of dog food with holes punched in it hung from high adds protein,,fly maggots,i know but the birds like them ,you might think about a worm bed box up high so the birds can’t get into it. As the bed box loaders with worms some crawl out ,to go play with the chickens ,fun to watch birds just watch and wait

          1. Same here Homesteader, I buy the commercial cedar shavings, no fines, also use the wheat straw and usually will add alfalfa as well, gets the birds turning over the bedding more,
            😎🤙🏻
            109 cases today, 9 on maui 98 on Oahu, 2 on Kauai

      1. Cedar oils in the chips or shavings damage the lungs of chickens. You should not use cedar chips or stall bedding in your chicken coop. Only use untreated or plain pine shavings or wood chips.

  10. I don’t do pics. You can zero in off those pics if you know what you are doing. It is not a pile but a layer, and an 8 inch layer does not generate much heat. The leaves will soon saturate from rain / snow thus dampening any heat generated. The layer is a shield. You want the bugs and bacteria. From Nov to May you will be fine. Want proof? Go open source – youtube. or just look at nature at work. Better yet….. experiment like I did. Not saying what you should do. Just conveying what I did. It works for me. Take it or leave it….. don’t much care.

  11. For those that live where Sugar Maples grow.
    Many of us have seen the big hollows inside of this tree. Often the for extends high into the large leads. This is due to the Northern Tooth mushroom. This fungus grows only in this Maple tree. Some literature does state that it may grow on Beech rarely. Once in a while you may see a white puffball like fruit.
    Anyway, the point is that often the Sugar Maples are filled with a mixture of the fiberous mushroom and digested wood. When one of these trees falls down or has to be cut down, a great quantity of mushroom wood can be had for the asking.

  12. I have the same setup as you Ken, PTO chipper for my tractor, Comes in real handy,
    I use chips in my garden and in our landscaping,
    Just need to be careful in the garden, too much high carbon stuff (browns) can tie up nitrogen in your soil, the N is needed to break down organic matter, especially high carbon items like wood chips, best to have a good mix of different stuff for mulch, chips, straw, leaves, better with more leaves and grass clippings if you have wood chips, just another thing to consider, species too, certain woods, barks or leaves can have very high tannic acid/tannin content, can be really detrimental to delicate plants

    1. Kula is correct on all counts, I add some nitrogen (milorganite) to my soil to replace the nitrogen loss. It also adds the not to be overlooked trace element minerals needed to replace the mineral depletion from a garden.

  13. I was once told to never put untreated wood chips near the foundation of a house. There is an increased of you getting a termites infestation of your house.

    1. Robert,
      True,,,
      Mostly in areas where there are ground termites, have seen it before

  14. I would be careful to not work too many wood chips or shavings into your soil. Wood is high in carbon and the microbes that decompose it can immobile a lot of nitrogen from the soil around it, it’s about the C:N ratio in the soil. Adding a lot of carbon(C) without extra nitrogen(N) can rob available N from the soil needed by the crop.

  15. Can’t use wood chips around my place, people that had my house before used wood mulch and the ants loved it. Had a devil of a time getting them from around the house’s foundation. (had to scrape the mulch up and put it in the compost pile).

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