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Wood chips make a great component to garden spaces. Even better, they are often inexpensive or free. The best part, however, is what a positive impact wood chips have in and around the garden.
Home improvement stores sell wood chips, aka wood mulch, by the bag, but that’s a much more expensive and wasteful proposition than buying them in bulk. Tree trimming and local recycling services will often have fresh wood chips for free, or they can be sourced much cheaper from landscaping companies and nurseries.
Not only does getting wood chips in bulk make fiscal sense, but it is also much more environmentally friendly. A cubic yard of mulch requires about 13 bags of mulch, costing somewhere in the vicinity of $50. That’s 13 or more massive plastic bags carrying wood which likely wasn’t sustainably sourced.
On the other hand, a yard of bulk mulch costs about $20, and it is typically sourced from local tree services that are using wood that was cut anyway. Plus, it’ll be helping small local businesses rather than large corporate ones.
But, to the point, what good exactly do wood chips bring to the garden?
Use Them for Garden Pathways
Wood chips are fantastic for garden pathways. They subdue the grass and weeds from growing, and they keep the pathways from being muddy. Also, when there hasn’t been any rain in days, the wood chips trap moisture in the soil, protecting it from drying out and keeping it available for plants to access. Two or three inches of wood chips can easily withstand a year or two as a pathway.
Plus, unlike gravel, stepping stones, or concrete, wood chips don’t require a lot of energy to produce or transport. Tree trimming happens just about everywhere, even in cities. And, wood chip pathways can be used as mulch later on.
Use Them for Mulch
Old broken-down wood chips create dark, rich soil. Over time, the wood—being organic matter—decomposes into compost. At this point, it can be spread atop the garden beds to be used as a highly effective mulch. Mulch protects the soil from drying out, provides habitat for soil life, prevents erosion, and moderates soil temperatures.
Industrious gardeners might use wood chips as garden paths for a year or two, then shovel the paths onto the garden beds and put fresh wood chips down as new paths. Fresh wood chips are not good in garden beds because the early decomposition takes nutrients away from the young plants.
Use Them for Fertility
Adding to the garden path-to-garden mulch cycle, decomposed wood chips will add serious fertility back to the garden. Each year that we grow vegetables, flowers, or whatever we are growing, those plants are taking nutrients out of the soil to fuel their growth. If we don’t add anything back, the soil eventually becomes deficient.
Tree branches, leaves, and even whole trees are constantly falling a decomposing on the forest floor. All of this decomposition acts like a large-scale composting system. The fallen debris constantly reinvigorates the soil with nutrients, and the forest continually regrows. We can achieve the same result with wood chips in our gardens.
Use Them as Carbon Material
Compost piles require both nitrogen-rich materials and carbon-rich materials. Food scraps and fresh grass clippings (green stuff) are the nitrogen element, which provides the heat in the compost heap. Wood chips, which are chopped up into small pieces, make a great carbon element, which provides the bulk in the heap.
A pile of wood chips sitting next to a compost bin is a great idea. Every time a bucket from the kitchen goes into the bin, cover the fresh food scraps with a bucket or two of wood chips. This will keep the compost pile from getting smelly or slimy.
Again, local tree trimming services, including the municipality, will often have wood chips available, even delivered sometimes, for free. Otherwise, landscape centers and local nurseries will have bulk mulch in stock. The last option would be collecting fallen debris in the yard and the neighbor’s yards over fall and winter and renting a wood chipper in early spring for DIY wood chips. The DIY option would mean all that yard debris doesn’t go to the landfill, making it an even more environmentally friendly endeavor.
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