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Why You Should Use Wood Chips in Garden

Wood chips are really awesome to be using in the garden. In this article, we’ll highlight the top five benefits to using wood chips in the garden and discuss how you can get these for free and incorporate them into your normal gardening. 


Let’s begin with just exactly what these wood chips are. They’re also known as arborist wood chips, and that’s the key. An arborist is that individual that you hire to come and chop down a tree, and then they’ll grind down the trunk and the branches and the leaves, put it in their truck and cart it away. Will they have to cart it somewhere and typically what they’ll do is they’ll dump it. And it can become available for gardeners to use. What makes this so special is that every handful has small pieces...big pieces...little bits of leaves or needles...and it’s not all one size. It’s varied. We’re going to use it because of all of these differences in particle size...the little teeny ones...to the big chunky ones.

How that particle size makes a difference leads us into discussing the five primary reasons for using wood chips in your garden.

Number one...they are great at improving the nutrient levels within your soil.

Number two...they’re almost unparalleled in weed suppression.

Number three...they do a great job at maintaining the moisture levels within the soil.

Number four...they help moderate soil temperatures both in winter and summer which can benefit your plants.

Number five...they do a great job of holding your soil in place and avoiding some bad things like soil erosion. And I’ll be discussing each of those a little more in depth.


We’re not using the wood chips as a soil amendment. In other words, we’re not mixing the chips into the soil. We’re placing them on top of the soil. And that’s where that first advantage of using wood chips comes in. Because by spreading a deep layer of wood chips in this entire area, I’m giving some time for them to break down...to add organic matter to the soil. And that difference in particle size helps ensure that there’s a steady stream of nutrients being released into the soil, because those very small particles are going to decompose pretty quickly. Those large pieces will take a lot longer. So, the wood chips in this area will be slowly breaking down over a long period of time and in a steady manner adding nutrients into the soil. You may have heard, and you might be thinking, that by adding these chunky pieces of wood to the soil that you’re going to be robbing it of nitrogen, and that that’s going to negatively affect the plants. Well, that’s not true for a few reasons. First, when we place this wood chip mix on the soil, that layer that touches the soil will have a loss of nitrogen as the wood begins to decompose. But it only happens at the very surface. It’s not happening deeper down. So any plants that are growing below that soil level? Well, the roots are not being exposed to any nitrogen deprivation at all. And as these wood chips begin to decompose, that imbalance changes. So in the beginning there is a loss of nitrogen right at the soil level, but as the decomposes that reverses and actually the nitrogen and the nutrients increase as the wood chips decompose. So the steady decomposition of those wood chips is continuing to add nutrients to the soil. And as those pieces are breaking down, now it’s adding organic material for the beetles and the earthworms and all those other insects and bacteria and fungi that are beneficial to the growth of plants within the soil. And so you may start with a pretty poor soil and then add some wood chips on top of it and in just the matter of a couple years the entire thing becomes a wonderful rich growing area for your plants. If you have weeds or you’re concerned about future weeds, well wood chips are great at suppressing and killing weeds. A simple two-inch layer (5cm) of the wood chips is enough to keep most weeds from germinating. Because a lot of the seeds in our garden need the sun and the wood chips are blocking out that light. If you put a six-inch(15cm) layer of wood chips, well, that’s enough to smother and kill almost all weeds. So lay it on thick and you’ll get rid of the grass and get rid of the weeds that otherwise you might have to dig out. 

And if you do get a few weeds that pop up in a thin layer of mulch, well, they’re usually very easy to pull out because their roots aren’t very well established because they have this mulch that they have to grow through. Another great advantage to the wood chips is that it helps retain soil moisture. So the different size pieces of the wood chips allows for a lot of air pockets. And so when it rains or when you water, So the different size pieces of the wood chips allows for a lot of air pockets. And so when it rains or when you water, that allows the water to actually work its way through the wood chips to get to the soil. You don’t always have that with a lot of other mulches, like shredded bark may actually form mats and it makes it difficult for the water to get through to the soil. But for wood chips, the water gets through and it moistens the soil. And some of those smaller particles are like little sponges so they’ll soak up some of that water as well. So the soil is moist, and the wood chips are moist, and because of that thick layer that you’ve put on top of the soil, now the evaporation is almost cut to nothing. Because if the soil attempts do dry out, well, it encounters that layer of mulch and that retains some of the moisture. So the soil is moist, the wood chips are moist, and that moisture stays put. You don’t have to water as often. And what causes that soil moisture to evaporate without the wood chips? Well, it’s the sun. And just like that moisture is escaping, well, the sun would be warming the soil without the wood chips. And that could be a problem because if you have a hot soil temperature during the day and a cold soil temperature during the night. Those fluctuations can really affect plants. But with a layer of wood chips,that temperature is moderated. It’s not as hot during the day and it’s not as cold during the night. So just like the wood chips help to retain soil moisture, they help retain a more consistent soil temperature, which is great for your garden. 


The fifth advantage of using wood chips in your garden is that they protect the soil. You should think of your soil as a living thing with all the microorganisms and animals that reside in the soil. And the sun can be very harsh on that environment. Not only fluctuating temperatures and fluctuating moisture levels, fluctuating moisture levels, but the fact that the sun can actually kill that upper layer of soil if it’s not protected by something and that’s where the wood chips come in. They protect your soil from damage. And it’s not just the sun damage. It can be water damage as well. The wood chips help reduce erosion. It can be water damage as well. The wood chips help reduce erosion. Heavy rains...no big deal because Heavy rains...no big deal because you’ve got a thick layer of wood chips in your garden. So wood chips are great for the garden. 


But where do you get them? Well, you can’t buy them in bags in the store. They’re arborist wood chips. So they have to come from somebody who’s chipping up a whole bunch of branches or logs from trees. Many cities have that service. They’re pruning city trees and then they chip it up and they offer it for free to citizens of the city. So you should check to see if maybe your city or town offers that service. 


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