After writing several articles in which I proclaimed the various, near-miraculous benefits of wood chips a handful of people commented with questions. These questions are common judging by online comments and video or article titles that are about wood chips. I’ll try to answer those questions here with what I have found in my research and personal experience.
What Woodchips are Best?
People often wonder what wood chips offer the most benefits to their garden. In my opinion, it’s the ones that are free. If you have an unlimited budget to go out and pay for your preference of chips then you could just as easily pay for soil and save some time and energy. Any extra benefits that could be had by one particular tree over another can be obtained by other ingredients in your compost or simply by adding more “lesser grade” woodchips that you can get for free.
What Woodchips are Bad?
While all wood chips are good for soil building, not all woodchips are good to add directly to your garden. Some trees have allelopathic properties that mean their woodchips will suppress the growth of some plants, especially seedlings and new transplants, nightshades are particularly susceptible. For this reason, you want to know what chips you are getting so you know how to best use them. Pine, maple, birch, black walnut, and eucalyptus chips should be composted before used as mulch around seedlings or nightshades.
Nitrogen draw is when soil nitrogen is drawn out to assist in the decomposition of organic material. Many people refrain from applying wood chips because they are concerned that it will remove the nitrogen from the soil. This might occur if the chips are mixed into the soil, but it should not be an issue if used as a mulch, and especially not if the chips have aged. If you are still worried about it, let your chips set until they aren’t heating up before applying them, but realize that any nitrogen draw that occurs will be minimal compared with long-term benefits and nitrogen is one of the easiest nutrients to come by from free sources like grass clippings and coffee grounds.
I hope this helps and encourages you to take advantage of this awesome soil building resource that is often available for free. I just got a dump truck full of chips dropped off in my yard for nothing, all I did was call my local electric company and ask for it.
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