Using Wood Chips as Mulch – The Benefits

Wood chips

There is actually a science to using mulch. It may sound simple enough–using organic materials or waste to improve the quality of your soil and to keep your plants healthy.

However, some organic matters are just better than others. Using wood chips as mulch makes soil healthier and suppresses the weeds, too.


Mulch: The Basics


Mulch keeps your soil healthy. As a result, your plants also become healthy.

That’s why it is important that you have the right organic matter to comprise your mulch. At the same time, since the mulch will cover your soil, you don’t want anything that will actually rot or smell rotten.

The purpose:

Retain moisture of the soil.

You want to keep the soil cool, hence, the covering. But of course, the components of the organic matter don’t just cover the soil.

The mulch also makes the soil more fertile.

Remember

Organic is always associated with something good and healthy.

So expect nothing different from the mulch. Since it comprises organic components, the soil is expected to be healthy.

And to emphasize:

HEALTHY SOIL MEANS HEALTHY PLANTS!


Types of Organic Mulch


The goal here is to discuss the benefits of using wood chips as mulch. But first, let’s discuss the types of organic mulch.

Animal manure

Mulching is a great way to dispose of animal manure. It is also considered an effective way to kill pathogens. The animal manure could be used as a side dress for plants.

Of course, animal manure is best paired with other organic materials in order to make a compost.

Grass clippings

Don’t just throw away the grass clippings from your lawn mower as they are great at suppressing weed. They decompose rapidly so it doesn’t matter if you have bagsful of grass clippings to dispose of.

However, you can’t use a lot of them at one time because they could produce a nasty odor.

They also have high water content, which is great at ensuring moistness of the soil. The downside is that it also prevents water from passing through.

So you have to be mindful of how you use your grass clippings.

Leaves

This is probably the most common ingredient of the mulch because it is usually the most common thing you see lying in the yard. Some people buy manure and wood chips but leaves are free!

You have to shred these leaves though for better effect. Unshredded ones could prevent water from seeping into the roots of the plants and trees.

Newspaper

There are questions on whether this could be considered organic or not. On one hand, the paper is biodegradable.

But how about the ink? According to experts, most newspapers have already switched to using organic dyes. This means that it is okay to use newspaper in your organic mulch.

It is actually becoming a more popular element. That may not be for long, though, as newspapers are a dying breed.

Back to its importance: Newspapers have the ability to retain moisture. This will then help control soil temperatures.

This mulch compound also suppresses weed.

Wood chips

Then we have the wood chips–these are shredded parts of the hard part of the tree: bark, branches and twigs. They last very long.

Wood chips as mulch are mostly advisable for trees and shrubs.

Trees

Advantages of Using Wood Chips


So what are the benefits of using wood chips as mulch?

For one, wood chips soak up the most water compared to all the other types of organic mulch. This is significant because you want to keep the soil cool.

Moisture is important to both the soil and the plant.

Imagine this

Just as the wood chips absorb water as if it’s a sponge, it will also release the water to the soil and the plants.

It is really the best component for storing moisture.

As such

Soil temperature can be abated.

There is also that issue of…

SUSTAINABILITY

Some people buy mulch. But if you can acquire wood chips for free, you can create your own mulch.

It’s quite simple

If you have trees in your yard, then you are bound to have some fallen branches or twigs. You can use a chipper shredder to make wood chips for you. 

If you don’t have trees, you can ask your neighbors for some. Just be sensitive about it and tell them you could pick up the fallen branches and twigs yourself.

You may also go to a nearby arborist. They will surely give you wood chips for free.

Or

You may visit a nearby recycling center. Some folks drop off woods for recycling.

Great news:

Wood chips can last for a long time. So you don’t really have to worry about getting them in bulk or not getting enough of them.

Here’s another important benefit:

Wood chips control the growth of weed. This means that you won’t have to maintain your garden or tree yard that much.

Of course, you need to properly put in place the wood chips as mulch.

How?

A few inches of wood chips as layer or cover would suffice in preventing the growth of garden weed.

In case a stubborn weed or two ever grows, it is most likely weak, which means you can easily take it out–root to tip. 

Gardeners talking while gardening at plant nursery

When It’s Best to Use Wood Chips


There is something you should know about wood chips:

It could take up nitrogen, which is important to plants. Nitrogen is present in healthy soils.

There is a chance that the wood chips would compete with the plants in terms of nitrogen consumption.

This is why

It is better to use wood chips with trees and shrubs.

Why?

These have larger roots that penetrate the soils deeper. When soils are healthy, these roots at the deeper end would be able to absorb the nitrogen from there.

This means

Wood chips may not be as good on vegetables and other plants with roots that don’t go so deep.

But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use wood chips on vegetables and ornamental plants.

Remember

Wood chips can suppress the growth of weed, which is the main competition for the plants not only in nitrogen but other nutrients that the soil feeds them.

Also

You can always balance wood chips with nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the plants. You put the organic fertilizer before you cover it with wood chips. 

Woman gardening

Common Misconceptions


Earlier, we discussed the concern about wood chips competing with plants for the nitrogen in the soil.

That concern is not actually unfounded, but it has a solution.

However

There are some misconceptions against the use of wood chips that are not backed by science.

MISCONCEPTION #1: Transfer of wood disease

There is this issue that if the wood shredded into chips had a disease, it could also infect plants. There is no study that could back this up.

Also, it is important to remember that wood chips are only used at the surface of the soil. It could control temperature and prevent the growth of weed, but it doesn’t actually take part in “feeding” the plants directly.

MISCONCEPTION #2: Allelopathy

What is this?

This is the process by which a plant releases chemicals and suppresses the growth of other nearby plants.

The misconception is that the allelopathic wood chips could release the chemicals and inhibit the advancement of other plants.

Just like the first one, there is not enough evidence to support this theory.

But

If you are really uncertain, you can age the wood chips before adding them in the mulch.

Man holding soil, close-up of hand

Important Notes:

  1. If you want to maximize the benefits of using wood chips as mulch, information is key. Be informed about wood chips and study its advantages as well as its disadvantages.
  2. Apply wood chips at the depth of four to six inches. 
  3. When you see signs of decomposition and soil erosion, it is time to replenish your wood chips as mulch. You also need to totally replace them every few years.

Summary


Using wood chips as mulch is definitely beneficial, especially if you are trying to use this on trees or shrubs.

There are a number of benefits to using wood chips with the most important of which is that it keeps your plants healthy. How? For one, it can suppress the growth of weed, which competes with the plants for nutrients.

Wood chips are also great at controlling soil temperature and making sure that moisture is preserved. Finally, wood chips are sustainable.


You Might Also Like


You know what would complement wood chips as mulch in terms of ensuring healthy growth of plants? A compost to be used as fertilizer. Here is how you can build a compost bin.

If you need a machine to help you spread the fertilizer in your property, we have a list of the best fertilizer spreaders for you!

Aside from wood chips, leaves are also important mulch components. You might want to check out some of the best electric leaf mulchers that are cheap and environmentally friendly. 


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