Best Mulch for a Garden? Wood Chips!
Back to Eden Gardening is a no-till gardening method that uses wood chip mulch since it is the absolute best mulch! When we mention the term mulch, we are referring to a layer of wood chips, applied directly on top of the surface of the soil. Scientific studies have found that while most natural mulching materials offer benefits, wood chips used as a mulch may provide the most benefits to gardeners when compared with other common organic mulches such as straw, leaves, or grasses. The best part is that you can usually find a FREE delivery of wood chips near you!
The Benefits of Wood Chip Mulch for the Soil
Gardeners and farmers will be amazed by all of the benefits of applying wood chip on their no-dig garden or no-till farm. Wood chips are a carbon-rich resource that has the power to regenerate soil, increase carbon sequestration in soil, and potentially save the planet.
Like all biological phenomena, the effects of wood chips on the soil are both simple and extremely complex. The biological complexity of a soil system can affect processes such as nutrient cycling, the formation of soil structure, and decomposition rates. Studies show that wood chips have the following benefits when used as a mulch in a garden:
- Increases Carbon Levels in Soil
- Regulates Soil Temperature
- Increased Moisture in Soil
- Holds Soil Against Erosion
- Improved Soil Structure
- Improved Compaction
- Builds Humus
- Increases Soil Fertility
- Nutrient Cycling
- Suppresses Weed Growth
- Improves Soil Fauna
- Stimulates Fungal Growth
- Improves Pest Resistance
- Improves Disease Resistance
- Increases Biological Diversity
The Benefits of Wood Chip Mulch for the Gardener & Farmer
Modern agricultural practices including tillage, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are destroying the fertility, productivity, and health of the soil. Wood chips are perhaps the most misused and under appreciated mulch in agriculture and gardening for regenerating soil. Our goal is to change that! Wood chips have the following benefits for a gardener and farmer:
- Save Time
- Save Money
- Save Labor
- Conserve Water
- Less Weeds
- Less Fertilizer
- Less Input
- Less Stress
- Less Work Over Time
- Increased Productivity
- Higher Yields
What Type of Wood Chips Are Best for a Garden?
Fresh wood chips created from freshly cut tree branches sourced from multiple species of trees provide the most well balanced composition for a garden. Fresh wood chips have been fragmented through a wood chipper and have not undergone the process of composting. The resulting small pieces of chipped wood have a variety of shapes and sizes and contain plenty of brown branches, green leaves/needles in the mixture. It is important to understand that the leaves are a source of nitrogen and the branches are a source of carbon. This ratio creates an ideal mulch gardening material when the wood chips have composted.
What Wood Chips Not To Use in a Garden?
The words "wood chips” are often misunderstood since people use wood chips as a broad term that encompasses all wood waste byproducts such as bark nuggets, wood shavings, sawdust, landscape mulch. It is crucial to understand the different materials that are lumped into the same category of wood chips and the very different compositions, uses, and applications.
Some of the common materials that fall into the same category as gardening wood chips that we do not recommend the following:
- Bark Nuggets: Bard Nuggets do NOT have the carbon to nitrogen ratio that creates a good gardening mulch.
- Sawdust: Sawdust or wood shavings is only recommended when mixed in with manure, which is typically then composted.
- Decorative Landscape Mulch: Do not use dyed or chemically treated mulch. This is sold as a decorative landscaping mulch. It will not be what you receive from tree trimming service drop off. When in doubt, always ask the supplier.
What Are Allopathic Wood Chips?
One of people's first concerns when receiving a delivery of fresh wood chips is, "what type of tree am I getting?" There are in fact some types of wood chips that will actually suppress seeds and plants from growing. Some trees generate naturally occurring chemicals that stifle the growth of competing seeds and seedlings. This process is called allelopathy. By definition, allelopathy is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms. These biochemicals are known as allelochemicals and can have beneficial (positive allelopathy) or detrimental (negative allelopathy) effects on the target organisms and the community.
These tree species are recommended to avoid using in your vegetable garden due to their seed germination suppressing allelopathy. Research in your local region if there are other allopathic tree species to avoid.
- Black Walnut
- Pepper Tree
- Tree of Heaven
Common Myths About Wood Chips
Myth #1: Wood chips will tie up nitrogen in the soil.
When wood chips are cultivated, tilled, dug or mixed into the soil in any way nitrogen is temporarily tied up and made unavailable for the plant. Nitrogen is essential for healthy leafy greens and plant growth. That's why Back to Eden Gardening is a no-till gardening method.
When you apply wood chips to the surface of soil as a "covering," "layer," or "sheet" nitrogen loss only occurs temporarily at the very surface level where the native soil meets the wood chips. Studies show this layer underneath the wood chips is where bacteria and fungi are actively working to decompose the wood. The nitrogen is quickly returned back to the soil 3 months after the initial application of freshly cut arborist wood chips. Nitrogen is never actually lost, but rather temporarily being used by the carbon to help break it down. This is why we recommend applying arborist wood chips in the Fall season so the wood chips have time to decompose before Spring planting season.
In conclusion, the wood chip nitrogen tie up myth is only detrimental to your garden if you cultivate, till, dig, or mix wood chips into your native soil. When you use wood chips as a mulch, the soil will improve dramatically each year with less and less input required over time.
Myth #2: Wood chips will kill your plants.
What type of wood chips you use in your garden does matter! It is incredibly import that you are 100% aware of what tree(s) are in your wood chips. Before wood chips are delivered to your property, make sure you inquire about what type of wood chips are being delivered. Tell the arborist or tree service company you are using them in a vegetable garden. Why? Allelopathy is the chemical inhibition of one plant by another due to the release into the environment of substances acting as germination or growth inhibitors.
For example, Reformation Acres, shares that wood chips from black walnut trees affected her tomato plants. Black Walnut wood chips have been confirmed by science to contain a chemical that inhibits plant growth. Paul Gautschi had a negative experience with Eucalyptus tree wood chip mulch which inhibited the growth of plants. Make sure you do research about the trees that grow in your local area. If you are certain about what trees are in your wood chip mulch, plants will not be killed through the leaching of allopathic chemicals in wood chips.
NOTE: When you are signing up for a free delivery of wood chips, the Chip Drop app has a place for your to make special requests to your tree service company. Please, make a note if you have any specific requests about what wood chips from trees you are interested in receiving. For example, write, "No Black Walnut. No Eucalyptus."
Myth #3: Wood chips acidify soils.
Studies show when you do not use the right nitrogen to carbon ratio, mulch can increase soil acidity over time. For example, if you use 100% bark, 100% needles, or 100% leaves, you are not mulching properly. Changes in pH may be found in the decomposing layer of mulch but these have little effect on underlying soils. However, it is difficult to significantly alter soil pH without the additions of chemicals.
Myth #4: Wood chips increase pests such as ants, slugs, termites, etc.
The top question we get asked is, "Do wood chips attract termites and pest to your garden?" The first thing to address is that wood chips do not bring pests to your property that are not already present. We have never had an issue with termites nor have we heard testimonies of any gardeners complaining about termites invading due to wood chip mulch. As far as pests, if you have a healthy vigorous plant, insects should not be a problem. Wood chips are the key to building healthy soil that grows healthy plants!
The Best Time to Add Wood Chip Mulch to Garden
We recommend starting a Back to Eden garden by covering your garden soil with fresh wood chips in the Fall. Autumn is the season in nature when trees naturally shed their branches, leaves, and needles. It also allows your fresh wood chips to decompose in place which helps improve your soil structure for better spring planting conditions. That being said, you can install a Back to Eden garden at any time of year!
The Top Sources for Wood Chips
One of the top sources for a large amount of freshly chipped wood chips is a local, professional tree trimming service company. After tree service companies have pruned, trimmed, or removed trees, they will chip all of the tree branches on-site. They are often looking for places to deliver their full truckload of freshly chipped wood. Although wood chips are considered a byproduct of tree trimming and pruning, they have endless benefits and economic value if used correctly in a vegetable garden and orchard. Using locally produced wood chips is sustainable and environmentally friendly because it keeps this wonderful resource out of a landfill.
Don’t underestimate the economic and soil enriching value of a free or low cost wood chip delivery from a local tree trimming service. A typical load of wood chips delivered by a tree trimming service can contain up to 20 cubic yards of wood chips! These are usually made from locally sourced, clean freshly cut tree branches.
Recommended FREE Wood Chip Delivery App
Looking for a FREE wood chip delivery near you? Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a delivery of wood chips for free.
We recommend you Sign Up for the Chip Drop App to get access to a wood chip mulch delivery! Chip Drop helps connect tree service companies with gardeners and landscapers. The owners of Chip Drop is an arborist named Bryan Kappa based in Portland, Oregon who spent several years hauling arborist wood chip waste to the dump or hard to access free dumping sites. After noticing a growing demand for the wood chip loads ignited by Back to Eden Film, he saw a need to create a service that would help provide arborist wood chips to people who needed them.
It is free to sign up and free to make a delivery request. Sign Up Today!
How Much Mulch Do I Need To Cover My Garden?
This is the best online mulch calculator. You can measure your garden area and easily calculate how much mulch you need to cover your garden and orchard.