8 Great Uses for Wood Chips in Your Yard and Garden

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Wood chips are a versatile material that you can often get for free. They have many uses for your yard and garden, from the aesthetic to the practical. Read on for some creative ways to use wood chips to improve your property.

Enrich your compost 

Every compost heap needs a good mix of ‘brown’ carbon-rich materials and ‘green’ nitrogen-rich materials. Add wood chips to your compost a little bit at a time to bulk it up and balance out all those grass clippings and food scraps.

Keep the weeds down

Wood chips can be used as an organic mulch in planting areas and around your trees. This layer of wood chips suppresses weed growth, keeps water in your soil, and regulates soil temperatures. If you already have mulch on your beds that’s getting thin, replenish it. You should use a three-inch layer of mulch, as a thin coating won’t do much to keep weeds down or insulate your soil.

You can also use a layer of wood chip mulch in any areas that you’re not sure what you want to do with. Keep them weed-free for the time being until you’ve formulated a plan and are ready to plant something. 

Stop plants from invading your property

Besides everyday weeds, you may want to prevent certain plants from making their way onto your property. This can be an issue, especially if your property borders woods or other natural areas. Wood chips not only form an attractive border to delineate your property lines but can keep wild plants from encroaching onto your land.

Transform your lawn

Many people are moving away from having grassy lawns, as they are an area of low biodiversity that needs high levels of water and maintenance. If you want to take over a grassy area for another use, wood chips can help! Contrary to popular belief, you won’t need to dig up the sod. In fact, doing so removes valuable nutrients from the soil. Instead, simply mow the grass short and lay cardboard over it, then cover the cardboard with a thick layer of woodchips. The grass will get composted and provide more nutrients for your next garden project.

Create pathways

Depending on your landscape design and “the look” you want, wood chips can be used to create a very natural-looking path, especially in woodland gardens. Walkways made from a deep layer of wood chips are a fantastic way to repurpose a large quantity of material from trees you remove from your property and send through the chipper. Wood chips are excellent for making pathways since they can be easily spread to even out ground surfaces, without the need to prepare the ground first. This type of pathway will help keep your shoes mud-free and suppress weeds. Just be sure to top up your pathways with more chips each year as they compact and decompose. 

Build up raised beds

Since wood chips are bulky and nutrient-rich, you can use them to build up raised beds using the “lasagna method”. All you need to do is layer cardboard or newspaper with whatever excess organic material you can find in your area. A general rule of thumb is to layer “brown” carbon-rich materials with “green” materials that are high in nitrogen. Brown materials can include dried leaves, hay, straw, wood chips, or other residues from your garden and yard. Green materials include fresh grass clippings, kitchen waste, and animal manures. The mixture of carbon and nitrogen materials will begin a composting process.

Protect garden beds

If you have a summer vegetable garden that doesn’t get used over the winter, layering wood chips over newspaper or cardboard over the garden beds will keep your soil ready for spring planting. The newspaper or cardboard underneath means you can keep the wood chips from migrating into the soil that you’ll turn over to start your spring vegetables. And a layer of compost laid over your vegetable garden first will break down faster when protected by cardboard and wood chips.

Prevent erosion

If your roof has downspouts that empty water out into a garden bed, a layer of wood chips can keep the force of water from eroding surrounding soil. This is also a good way to protect the ground (and the kids too) around play structures. 

Damp wood chips can be used to minimize erosion due to wind; keep them moist by spraying them every few days. 

Where to get wood chips?

There are many different ways to get your hands on some wood chips to use in your yard and garden. Probably the most obvious way is to put a log or tree through a chipper, if you need to remove a tree or stump from your property. You can always ask around for any neighbors who may have an unwanted pile of wood chips they would be glad for you to take away. 

In most municipalities, you can phone your park department, and they will drop them at your site. You may also be able to get wood chips from your municipal recycling center, or from a local tree removal company or landscaping company that has extra chips to give away. If you can’t find free wood chips, you can always buy some from a garden center. 

Are those wood chips safe?

If you didn’t produce the wood chips yourself, make sure you know where they came from. Some wood has been treated, and you may not want to bring it onto your property. 

In addition, mulching around vegetable plants should only be done if you add a nitrogen-rich material at the same time. Disease-prone plants such as tomatoes and roses do not enjoy the fungal environment that forms inside of wood chips. If you do want to use wood chips around vegetable or flower beds, mixing some grass clippings in with your wood chips will ensure your growing plants have access to enough nutrients. Larger, mature plants such as trees, bushes, and fruit trees have deeper roots and can be safely mulched without adding anything to the mixture.

Finally, keep in mind which type of trees your wood chips have come from. Conifers such as pine trees can acidify your soil, while walnut wood can contribute chemicals that can slow the growth of nearby plants. 

With so many great ways to use wood chips, you’ll be able to enjoy a tidy, beautiful, and functional garden.

-Susan Patterson

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