What do home improvement stores and garden centers not want you to know about wood chip mulch? You can get it for free.
Arborists, tree trimmers, yard maintenance services, utility companies, and municipal waste facilities are sources of free or low-cost wood chips for mulch. Some companies will deliver wood chips for free which saves them the time and expense of disposing of them at a landfill or green waste facility. Sometimes municipalities offer free come-and-get-them wood chips to the general public.
Why Should You Use Wood Chip Mulch in Your Yard?
Wood chips are a versatile byproduct of tree pruning, land clearance, and yard maintenance. Wood chip mulch provides nutrients to the soil as it decomposes, helps the soil retain moisture, and keeps soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Spreading it on bare ground reduces erosion. Pathways made with wood chips absorb water and provide a resilient walking surface unlike concrete sidewalks.
Diversity of material and lack of uniformed sized chips is desirable. Wood chip mulch consisting of bark, wood, and leaves resists compaction and remains permeable, absorbing water and then releasing it slowly into the soil.
Although you can buy it at home improvement stores and garden centers, it is far more environmentally friendly to obtain locally made wood chip mulch. It is minimally processed with no added dyes, is transported only a few miles, and does not require packaging in non-recyclable plastic bags. This conserves resources and energy, reduces pollution and waste, and will probably save you money as well.
Wood Chip Mulch Tips
- Remove weeds first, putting mulch over weeds does not kill them.
- Apply mulch to a depth of 2-4”.
- Keep mulch away from the base of plants and trees; avoid volcano shaped piles around tree trunks.
- Do not pile mulch close to the foundation of your home.
For more information about using wood chip mulch, see the resources section below.
Wood Chip Mulch Mountain
Chances are if you live in an area with a lot of trees and high winds you will be on friendly terms with a local tree service. We met Blair, a local arborist and tree service company owner, the first winter we lived on the central California coast.
As forest newbies, we did not truly appreciate the hazard dead trees and sometimes even live trees present to homeowners. During a particularly heavy window rattling rainstorm, several dead trees fell down in our yard. One scraped the side of our chimney and took out a section of deck railing. Our driveway was blocked.
We looked up tree services in the phone book and met Blair later that day. He and his crew cleared the driveway, chopped up the tree trunks for firewood, and chipped the branches for mulch which we later spread around our yard.
Our most recent encounter with Blair led to a mountain of wood chip mulch being delivered to our house. A dead tree that had been cut to just below the power lines by the utility company fell on a chain link fence that encloses a small part of our yard. We could have probably left the tree there indefinitely, but it was blocking a deer trail that runs behind our house so we called Blair.
He came to the house to check out the situation and said since it was a non-emergency he’d schedule us in the next few weeks. I asked Blair to put me on his wood chip list and a couple days later he called to say he had some and asked if I wanted them. I said yes. Later he pulled up in a truck and dumped a mountain of wood chips in our driveway, for free.
In a week or so the crew came and cut the dead tree trunk into smaller pieces and sprinkled them around the yard where they can finish decomposing and nourishing the soil at their leisure. The crew topped a few of our other trees as a prevention measure and then chipped the branches onto the yard where the chipper could reach and the balance onto my wood chip mulch mountain.
I previously discovered that pushing a wheelbarrow up and down the slopes in our yard is difficult and often dangerous. So I had purchased plastic party beverage tub with rope handles at a home improvement store which I use to carry and drag stuff around the yard.
Shoveling wood chips into a 17-gallon tub, carrying them up or down a hill to a spot in the yard, dumping and spreading them is not easy. However, it is fantastic exercise and possibly a good weight loss strategy. Plus there is the sense of accomplishment you feel when you survey your handiwork. I work a couple of hours a few days a week (so I can actually move the rest of the week) and it may take me a month or more to trek around the yard spreading wood chips. The wood chip mulch mountain is shrinking. I’ll soon be done. Whew.
Regardless of whether you live in an urban area with a landscaped yard or a rural area with little or no landscaping, wood chip mulch is good for the soil and thus your plants and trees. Give locally made wood chip mulch a try in your own yard or garden. It’s good for the environment and your wallet.
- Composting Part 1 – You’re Going to Do What?
- The American Lawn – Be the Envy of the Neighborhood
- Weed Whacking – Do It Yourself
- Kansas State University – Using Wood Chips for Mulch, Yard Care and the Environment, by Robert Neier and Ward Upham, April 2006
- Master Gardener – Wood chip mulch: Landscape boon or bane?, by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Summer 2007
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences – Organic Mulch, by David J. Williams
- WalterReeves.com – Wood Chips – Myths & Facts
- Wikipedia – Woodchips