Wood chip mulch, excellent mulch and a great way to recycle garden waste

Wood chips make for an excellent plant-based mulch. Layered around your trees and shrubs, they share all sorts of benefits to your plants. Wood chip mulch literally shares rich forest fertility to your very own garden soil!

Key wood chip mulch facts

Availability – high
Cost – low
Ornamental value – can be naturally dyed

Ornamental layer – 2-4 in (5-10 cm)
Soil enrichment – 6 to 8 in (15 to 20 cm)
Renew rate – every two years

Wood chips are a cheap resource, but they’re among the most nourishing mulches in the long run.

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Advantages of wood chip mulch

Wood chip mulch advantages

Wood chip mulch offers all possible advantages for mulch:

  • ornamental, healthy nature-like feel
  • 100% organic, natural and untreated
  • excellent water retention to save on watering
  • weed growth inhibitor
  • slow-release fertilizing potential
  • temperature protection against heat waves and cold spells
  • wind-proof
  • recycles garden waste if you have or borrow a chipper-shredder

Wood chips, the richness of the forest in your garden

Wood contains some of the longest-lasting nutrients of the plant world. Compared to grasses and leaf plants, wood contains long chains of rich compounds called lignins.

  • When these are broken down by beneficial fungi and insects, they can be absorbed by smaller plants, ornamentals, and vegetables.
  • Trees, especially hardwoods, send roots deep down and have access to more rare minerals and trace elements. These minerals are stocked in wood used for wood chips.

Vegetable beds and fruit trees nourished with wood chips produce tastier fruits and vegetables! Soil prepared with wood chips is also much more nourishing and produces healthier plants with less pests.

As an analogy, just for the point of understanding, it’s similar to what athletes explain regarding their diet:

  • Wood chips and ramial chipped wood are like “complex carbohydrates” that slowly release energy over the course of an effort.
  • Grass trimmings, leaf mulch, green manure and other lighter mulch types are like “simple sugars” that provide a boost of nutrients over a short span of time.

If you’re only going to mulch with one type of mulch, best prepare for the long run and go for wood chips!

Wood chip mulch application

How thick to layer wood chips

For ornamental covering

Wood chips will perform perfectly as an ornamental cover if layered between 2 to 4 inches thick (5 to 10cm).

  • This thickness ensures weeds won’t sprout.
  • Water retention and temperature protection against heat and cold are guaranteed, too.
  • It’s shallow enough that quantities needed aren’t as high.

Enrich dead soil with wood chips

However, if you wish to enrich poor soil or restore dead, compacted soil to more a springy, healthy state, pile it on!

  • Layer the soil with 6 to 8 inches of wood chips (15 to 20 cm).
  • No need to turn the soil or use a rototiller. Worms and beneficial bugs will do all that work for you.
  • It takes a full year at least for the bottom-most wood chips to break down, sometimes even two.
  • After this initial thick layer, simply add 2 to 4 inches every year to the top (5 to 10 cm).

Within two seasons, a dead, compacted spot of soil will start recovering.

  • Color will change from drab gray or tan to dark brown or black.
  • Soil life will increase with worms, thrips, mites, fungus and all sorts of beneficial microbial life.
  • Compact soil will loosen up and turn more springy and light.

You can also jump-start the decomposition by adding the following:

  • Fresh Ramial Chipped Wood – this shredded branch-tip material is very rich in nutrients that good bugs and plants crave!
  • Fermented weed tea – Spray all-purpose fermented tea over your pile of wood chips to inoculate beneficial fungus and yeasts that will break the wood down faster.

Wood chip mulch compared to other plant mulch

Situations where wood chips are most useful

Wood chips are excellent in the following situations:

  • Poor soil – soil that needs rejuvenation as described above. Pair with compost if available for faster results.
  • Large expanses – since the cost is among the lowest of all mulch types.
  • Walkways and passageways – since this type of mulch excels at resisting compaction (together with pine bark mulch).
  • Future growing beds and vegetable patches – excellent to prepare soil and release long-lasting nutrients for the following year.
  • Ornamental and elegant – golden-yellow chips stay bright for a month or two, and within 6 months colors shift to an elegant aged-wood gray. Color shift is naturally irregular, since it depends on moisture and sunlight. Bulb flowers and shrubs stand out beautifully against that background!
  • Additive to compost – if you’ve got too many to handle, mix them into your compost. Wood chips count as brown matter, so remember to mix in some fresh greens to speed up decomposition.

It goes without saying that colored wood chips are also fashionable and ornamental, too!

Situations where wood chips should be avoided

Better to think of other types of mulch in these cases:

  • Pots and containers – because wood chips are too large to really fit in (except for your largest pots, such as potted olive trees or potted citrus plants).
  • Indoor pots and garden boxes – decaying wood chips will carry along a mushroomy, forest-like odor that, while perfectly healthy, isn’t often welcome in a home.
  • Cultivated vegetable patch – large wood chips get in the way of the hand trowel and make it a bit more difficult to plant and transfer seedlings. You can spread some between rows and along walkways, though. It’ll protect roots from being crushed as you work around the patch, and still leach nutrients around in time.

Smart tip about wood chip mulch

Wood chip mulch is excellent! Get in touch with landscapers in your area – they’ll be very happy to provide you with wood chips from gardens they’re working on! Indeed, they often have to pay a fee to dispose of their materials. They’ll be happy to give it to you for a very low price, perhaps even for free if you pick it up yourself!

Wood chip mulch with plumbago and mahonia


Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Wood chips along a walkway by Florentaise
Woodchips in a garden bed by Florentaise