Wood Chip Mulch Pros and Cons

Gardening activities are truly fun and rewarding, and they are an alternative outdoor activity that one can do from home. That 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 mulch application. Wood chip mulch is one of the best mulches for established shrubs and trees.

Pine wood chip mulch around shrubs in garden

What is Wood Chip Mulch?

Wood mulch pile

Wood 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 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 will take a year or two before applying, and it will help them break down and become more beneficial to the soil.

Wood-Chip Pros

Wood mulch around trees and shrubs

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

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

Slow Burning Fertilizer – Depending on the environment, these mulches 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 in the soil.

Can Attract Beneficial Earthworms – Mulches can attract insects, especially earthworms, to come and consume the material and live underneath. Earthworms play 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 through the roots. This fertilization layer benefits trees, flower beds, and shrubs.

Keep Weeds Out of the Lawn – 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 woodchips.

Red mulch chips around trees landscaping

Wood Chip Mulch is Not for Every Plant – Vegetables are not the best recipients of woodchips 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 of woodchips are plants that have deep enough soil. Alternatively, if you still insist on using these mulches, only apply them on the surface, on top of mulches made of leaves (preferably still green).

So you have your topsoil, leaf mulch, and wood mulch at the very top. Why green? Green leaves have lots of nitrogen. Let the woodchips 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 diseases in your plant, 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 to do so 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 will have a problem.

The solution to lessening the risk is to make sure you know where the product 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 Chips

Wheelbarrow of loose mulch in garden

Size 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 mulches come 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 mulches.

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 products.

Wood-Chips for Garden Mulch

Red cedar mulch

Natural Colored Mulch

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

Cedar Mulch

Cedar 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 type is best. Read more about the pros and cons of cedar mulch here.

Colored Mulch

If your garden’s or landscape’s aesthetics matter, this is what you should use.

Bark Mulch 

Pine bark wood chip mulch

If water retention is an issue that needs solving, go for shredded mulches; otherwise, you can get the larger chunks. Regardless, bark 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 mulches are a fitting addition for gardeners working on a tight budget.

Landscaping with mulch around plants shrubs

Here are some of the most common questions about using woodchips in the garden or landscaping around the home.

Is Mulch Good for Your Garden?

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

Wood-Chips Around Trees

Wood chips are distributed around the target plant to ensure the trunk does not rot by allowing proper aeration. Keeping the trunk dry keeps it from growing mold or attracting insects that can damage it.

Mulch Pathway

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

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

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

 Wood-Chip on Playground

Wood chips are a great medium to lessen the effects of playground injuries. There are materials like rubber, but this natural material is easy to source from the local environment.

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

Why Use Wood-Chips

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 fresh water.

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.

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