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Wood Chip Mulch Pros and Cons

Here we share our wood chip mulch pros and cons including what it is, where to use it and how it compares to regular wood mulch for garden and landscaping.Pine wood chip mulch around shrubs in gardenGardening activities are truly fun, rewarding, and are an alternative outdoor activity that one can do from home. With that being said, there are many methods to fertilize a plant from manufactured foliar fertilizers (fertilizer applied directly to the leaves of a plant) to the traditional application of mulch.

One of the best types of mulches for established shrubs and trees is wood chip mulch.

What is Wood Chip Mulch?

Wood mulch pileWood chip mulch is essentially just chopped-up wood material taken from various sources like tree trunks and fallen trees.

If you have cut off some excess branches from trees in your yard, you can also have those turned into chips if you have the right equipment.

However, never use wood that came from old furniture as it may have been treated with chemicals for preservation, and gardeners don’t want that material mixed into their soil.

Cedar mulch is one of the most popular types of wood chip mulch. Pine and other types of chunky bark are also used. If you decide to use your own aging it for a year or two before applying will help them break down to become more beneficial to the soil.

Wood Chip Mulch Pros

Wood mulch around trees and shrubsEnvironmentally Sustainable

One of the biggest advantages of using wood chip mulch is how environmentally clean they are. They practically come from nature, anyway. You can also source them from your neighbor if you happen to see them cutting tree branches from their yard.

Gardeners who are lucky enough to be situated in places where it is abundant, don’t have to spend fuel on transport. When it comes to sustainability, the source material is practically infinite.

Environmentally Clean

Since wood mulches are practically plants, the material is organic and is safe to use for your garden or compost piles as long as it wasn’t from used lumber from furniture or homes.

Again, those could contain chemicals used for preservation. The fuel only consumed in the process of producing the mulch is the fuel used by wood chipper. Other than that, the source is way cleaner than industrial-grade fertilizers.

Slow Burning Fertilizer

Wood chip mulches, depending on the environment, can take a long time to completely decompose. It also provides nutrients during this period, thus feeding the plant continually for a long time. This breaking down process also increases organic matter for the soil.

Can Attract Beneficial Earthworms

The mulch can attract insects, especially earthworms, to come and consume the material and live underneath. Earthworms provide an important role in continually churning the soil.

Earthworm feces itself is a mild fertilizer, and their constant movement around the vicinity of the plant will allow air to circulate the roots. This layer of fertilization is beneficial to trees, flower beds and shrubs.

Keep Weeds Out of the Lawn

Wood chip mulches are heavy, and a suitable amount around the plant can help reduce the probability of weed growth. It is essentially the equivalent of laying a plastic mat on the ground to prevent weed growth, only this time, the cover also provides other benefits.

Help Maintain Moisture

Wood chips also act as shades to keep the sun from heating the soil, thus slowing down the rate of evaporation. In addition to this, it helps hold in the soil and prevent erosion.

Wood Chip Cons

There are several disadvantages of woodchip mulch.

Red mulch chips around trees landscapingWood Chip Mulch is Not for Every Plant

Vegetables are not the best recipient of wood chip mulch due to the issue of nitrogen theft. For matter to decompose, nitrogen is required. Wood chips, when breaking down, will consume some of that nitrogen, and plants that are sensitive to the absence of nitrogen can be affected negatively.

The best recipients for wood chip mulch are plants that have deep enough soil. Alternatively, if you still insist on using wood mulch, only apply them on the surface, on top of mulch made of leaves (preferably still green).

So you have your topsoil, leaf mulch, then the wood mulch at the very top. Why green? Green leaves have lots of nitrogen. Let the mulch consume that instead of the one available in the soil.

Transportation Issues For Some

Depending on where you live, if you don’t have enough trees or no trees at all, you will have to ship the wood chips from somewhere. That entails paying for fuel.

Wrong Application Can Cause Problems

A wrong method of application can cause your plant to have diseases, especially among trees. Mold growth and rotting can happen, and in some cases, suffocation of the roots.

The general rule for applying any fertilizer is in a ring fashion around the plant as far away from the main stem as possible. This method is applicable for non-wood chip mulches too.

Risk of Importing Diseases

The problem with shipping wood chips from somewhere else is the risk of also importing unwanted pests, molds, and diseases. Get one of these bad boys in and you have a problem.

The solution to lessening the risk is to make sure you know where the mulch is coming from. If possible, buy from local sources. If it can’t be helped, wait it out. Don’t apply the mulch immediately. Wait for a year, at least, before applying.

Wood Mulch Versus Wood Chips

Wheelbarrow of loose mulch in gardenSize Difference – Wood chips tend to be larger than wood mulch.

Different Source Material – Wood chips come from logs and recycled lumber that have been processed. Wood mulch comes from tree bark and is smaller in size.

Break Down Over Time – Due to the size of wood chips, they break down slower than wood mulch.

Chemistry – Wood chips, having a diverse source, tend to have richer nutrient content than mulch. Some wood mulches have been dyed for aesthetics. If you don’t care about aesthetics, just avoid dyed mulch.

Wood Chips for Garden Mulch

Red cedar mulchNatural Colored Mulch

An affordable variety while still providing the benefits of wood mulch.

Cedar Mulch

Cedar mulch is one of the best choices, and it comes with essential oils to prevent pests. It’s more expensive, but if you are dealing with termites, this mulch is best. Read more about the pros and cons of cedar mulch here.

Colored Mulch

If the aesthetics of your garden or landscape matter, this is what you should use.

Bark Mulch 

Pine bark wood chip mulchIf water retention is an issue that needs solving, go for shredded mulch, otherwise, you can get the larger chunks. Regardless, bark mulch is a popular choice for all the benefits of mulches.

Pine Peelings or Shavings

Rather than burning and sending it to a dumpsite, this byproduct of the pinewood milling process is packaged and sold in bulk for mulching purposes. Wood mulch is a fitting addition for gardeners who are working on a tight budget.

Wood Chip Mulch Q & A

Landscaping with mulch around plants shrubsHere’s some of the most common questions asked about using wood chip mulch in the garden or for landscaping around the home.

Is Wood Chip Mulch Good for Your Garden?

Yes, and it is good for the environment too. Being able to recycle local sources for fertilizers keeps the soil from losing its nutrient content. As for barren soil, wood mulch can quickly enrich that soil in a few months or years.

Wood Chip Around Trees

The reason why wood chips are distributed around the target plant is to make sure the trunk does not rot by allowing proper aeration. Keeping the trunk dry keeps it from growing mold or attract insects that can damage it.

Wood Chip Pathway

You can use wood chip mulch to create pathways and walkways around the backyard or garden.Since mulch is much less expensive than gravel or stone it’s a popular choice for paths.

Another advantage is it is much lighter to haul and easier to spread making it less burdensome to work with.

However, they do tend to attract insect such as termites. for this reason they should not be used next to the house. See more walkway designs on a budget here.

Wood Chips on Playground

Wood chips are a great medium to use for lessening the effects of playground injury. There are materials like rubber but this is a natural material that is easy to source from the local environment.

It is also natural so the likeliness of ingesting or inhaling toxic fumes is unlikely. It also exceeds the ADA, ASTM, and CPSC playground surfacing standards.

Why Use Wood Chip Mulch

Wood chips, whether in mulch form or chip form, are such wonderful materials. Whether for gardening or use in playgrounds, they are virtually free to be used.

For bigger applications like agriculture, they are excellent in keeping the soil moist, reducing the need for frequent watering, and lowering the demand for freshwater.

Considering all the benefits mentioned above, they reduce the demand for many things like pesticides and fertilizers since they already function that way.

For any gardener or farmer who is reluctant to use industrial fertilizers, this is certainly your organic alternative.

For more related landscaping ideas visit our page on the types of gravel.