Gardening can be a challenge, but with the right tools and techniques, it can also be a rewarding and sustainable activity. One of those tools is wood chips, which can be used in a variety of ways to improve soil health, suppress weeds, and conserve moisture.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of using wood chips in the garden, as well as different methods for incorporating them into your woodchip gardening routine. The methods we will cover include Back to Eden gardening, sheet mulching, composting, and more!

What are Wood Chips?

Wood chips are pieces of wood that are created from tree trimmings, pruning, or other wood waste. Wood chips are a versatile and eco-friendly material that can be used in many different applications. They have a natural, rustic look that makes them suitable for use in landscaping and gardening projects. Wood chips are also known for their ability to retain moisture, suppress weed growth, and regulate soil temperature, which makes them an ideal mulching material for plants and trees.

The attributes of wood chips can vary depending on the tree species from which they are derived. For example, hardwoods like oak and maple tend to be more durable and long-lasting than softwoods like pine or spruce. Additionally, wood chips that come from freshly cut wood will typically have a higher moisture content than chips that have been dried or aged for a longer period of time.

Wood chips can be easily acquired from a variety of sources, including local arborists, power companies, town maintenance trucks, or websites like Chipdrop.com. Some of these sources may offer wood chips for free, while others may charge a fee.

When acquiring them, it’s important to consider factors like the tree species, size, and moisture content, in order to ensure that the chips will be suitable for the intended use. They come in different sizes and can be made from a variety of tree species, but are typically composed of hardwoods like oak or maple. Wood chips can often be acquired from local arborists, power company or town maintenance trucks, or websites like Chipdrop.com.

Benefits of Using Wood Chip Gardening:

  1. Soil Amendment: Wood chips can help improve soil structure and fertility by adding organic matter and providing a habitat for soil microorganisms. Over time, wood chips will decompose, enriching the soil and making it more fertile.
  2. Weed Suppression: Wood chips can also help suppress weeds by shading the soil and reducing the amount of light that reaches weed seeds. This can help reduce the amount of time and effort you need to spend on weed control.
  3. Water Conservation: Wood chips can also help conserve water by slowing down evaporation and transpiration. This can be especially helpful during dry spells when soil moisture is limited.
  4. Pathways and Mulch: Wood chips can also be used as a mulch for plants, helping to conserve moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. They can also be used as pathways in the garden, providing a stable and attractive surface to walk on.
  5. Mycelial Dominance: Wood chips are a great medium to harbor fungal growth. Many plants thrive in a fungal dominant soil and the network of mycelium created by different beneficial fungal species can help plants gain easier access to more resources.

How to Incorporate Wood Chips into Your Gardening Routine:

  1. Top Dressing: One of the simplest and best ways to regularly incorporate wood chips into your garden is to top dress existing beds with a layer of chips. Also known as Back to Eden gardening, this method can be done once or twice a year depending on your needs. A thicker layer (6-8 inches) can also be added every 3-4 years or after a majority of the wood chips seem to have broken down.
  2. Sheet Mulching: Sheet mulching is a technique that involves layering compost, leaves, grass clippings, and other organic materials over existing soil. Chips can be added as the final layer to help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and improve soil health.
  3. Incorporating Wood Chips into Soil: Another option is to incorporate wood chips directly into the soil. This can be done by digging a trench and adding chips before backfilling with soil.

This technique can help improve soil structure, fertility, and moisture retention. This method is best used in areas like walk-ways, where crops will not be planted. Tilling wood chips into the soil is never recommended as it may result in unintentional nitrogen tie up. 

Using wood chips in the garden can be an excellent way to add organic matter and improve soil structure, but it’s important to understand the potential drawbacks as well. One of the main concerns when adding chips to soil is nitrogen tie up.

Nitrogen & Wood Chips

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth, and when wood chips are added to the soil, they can use up a lot of nitrogen in the process of breaking down. This can lead to a shortage of nitrogen for plants, which can result in stunted growth and reduced yields.

Fortunately, there are several strategies that can be used to avoid nitrogen tie up when using wood chip gardening. One of the most effective ways to do this is by using cover crops. Cover crops can add nitrogen back to the soil as they grow, and when they’re chopped and dropped, they can help to release nitrogen and other nutrients back into the soil.

Another option is to mix the chips with other materials before use, such as leaves, compost, or manures, which can provide additional nitrogen to help offset any tie up. Composting the wood chips prior to use will also eliminate any nitrogen tie up but wood chips alone may take a while to fully compost.

Another strategy is to top dress the wood chips rather than incorporating them into the soil. This means spreading the chips on the surface of the soil, which can help to reduce the amount of nitrogen that is used up in the breakdown process.

When top dressing with a thick layer (6-8 inches), the wood chips create their own soil layer as they break down, minimizing any nitrogen tie-up from the established lower soil layers. For best results when transplanting, make sure the root ball of the plant is planted in soil not chips. 

Finally, it is possible to add a nitrogen fertilizer when using wood chips in the garden. This can help to ensure that plants have sufficient nitrogen to grow and produce healthy crops. However, it is important to use organic fertilizer sources, carefully and only when needed, as excessive nitrogen can have negative effects on soil health and water quality.

Wood chips can be an excellent addition to the garden, but it’s important to understand the potential problems associated with nitrogen tie up. By using cover crops, mixing the chips with other materials, top dressing, and carefully using fertilizers, it is possible to avoid nitrogen tie up and enjoy the many benefits of using wood chips in the garden. 

In conclusion, using woodchip gardening can provide a range of benefits, from improving soil health to suppressing weeds and conserving moisture. By incorporating wood chips into your gardening routine, you can create a healthier and more sustainable garden that requires less time and effort. Whether you opt for top dressing, sheet mulching, or composting chips, the benefits of using wood chips in the garden are clear and well worth exploring!