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Wood Chips in Landscaping

Wood chips are good for pathways along a garden in that they are durable and prevent compaction from foot traffic. Natural colored chips can also make the path blend in with it’s surroundings. The  opposite can be the case when a color is chosen that stands out from the natural soil color and vegetation helping to direct people along the wood chip path protecting the plantings from being walked on.

Adding chips to the landscape can be a good thing. There are some benefits to keep in mind. Mulch is a material placed over the surface of the soil for a number of reasons. As mulch, the wood chips will reduce germination of weed seeds, stabilize soil temperatures (warmer in winter, cooler in summer), reduce evaporation and conserve soil moisture, and make removal of weeds easier. Wood chip mulch can be attractive when used properly in the landscape. Two things to be caution about is that chips may blow away if they are too light and wash away in the rain if on a slope especially when placed on plastic.

If you work the wood chips into the soil, they will be used as a soil amendment instead of mulch. There are different considerations when using the wood chips in this manner. They can be beneficial by creating increased pore space. In a compacted soil, they allow necessary air and water to more easily penetrate a compacted soil. The wood chips will decompose releasing nutrients into the soil. The decomposition will occur more rapidly if the chips are worked into the soil, but it occurs even if the chips remain on the surface as mulch. 

The decomposition process adds some additional considerations into the gardening equation. In order to decompose, the wood chips will be food for beneficial composting fungi and bacteria. The fungi and bacteria need the food materials provided by the wood chips and nitrogen to accomplish the composting process. Wood chips are low in nitrogen, so the fungi and bacteria will take the nitrogen from the soil. Large chunks of wood will decompose slowly. Smaller wood particles with a larger surface area-to-volume ratio will decompose more rapidly. This will cause nitrogen deficiency problems in the soil. If you are using fine shavings or sawdust as mulch or as a soil amendment, you should add additional nitrogen in the form of chemical fertilizer or manure to the soil to provide the needed nitrogen.

Using the wood chips in the landscape is an excellent idea, but it must be done properly. Keep in mind the considerations stated above so that you will do it properly.

Wood Chips vs Gravel Mulch

When considering wood chips or large wood mulch chips often gravel or decorative stone is often part of the choice or should be. Each one has some features that may help swing the decision.

Aesthetics

An important part of landscaping is what they eye perceives. Gravel can create either an austere look or a very manicured look, depending how it’s used. On the other hand, wood chips create a more natural, woodsy look. Wood chips can make a sitting area more inviting and give it a cooler feel, especially during hot summer months. Gravel offers more options for decorating, such as different colors, sizes and shapes.

Weed Control

While both gravel and wood chips provide weed control, gravel is slightly better at preventing weed growth when it's placed in a thick layer. Wood chips are better at retaining moisture in the ground, which is good for nearby plants, but also encourages certain types of weeds. Removing weeds, however, is often easier in places covered with wood chips because the soil remains soft.

Durability

Eventually, gravel and wood chips will both need to be replaced or refreshed by adding additional layers, but wood chips need replaced more often. They blow away, float away in rain and work into the soil faster than gravel does. Gravel, on the other hand, can be more difficult when it comes to removing debris like fall leaves, twigs and leaves, and a lot of gravel can be lost during cleanup.

There is some controversy over the use of wood chips and the affect it can have on the soils nitrogen content. With out going into a long soil science presentation here is a quick view of it. Wood chips create a narrow band of nitrogen deficient soil right at the surface this helps in acting to prevent weed growth. This has no real damaging affect especially if not mixed into the topsoil.  If not mixed into the soil this has not effect other than all the nitrogen fixing organisms are taken up by the vast amount of material to work on in the wood chips so they are not really available in the soil. This does not affect more than the very surface layer and not a subject of concern. Living proof every day is the amount of landscape plantings that thrive with wood chips around them.

Benefits of mulching with wood chips

  • Saves Labor - no weeding, less time watering
  • Saves Water - less watering is required
  • Soil service is shaded – Less irrigation and rain water is retained
  • Safer - no need for chemical weed killers or herbicides
  • Stimulates growth - mulched trees grow faster than un-mulched trees
  • Makes plants more resistant to disease and insects
  • Keeps soil and roots from overheating in hot summers
  • Eliminates injury to trunks and plant stems from mower collisions
  • Reduces soil compaction over roots and adds loft
  • Nourishes the soil by adding nutrients as it decomposes
  • Reduces bruising of fallen fruit under fruit trees
  • Increase earthworm population resulting in better aeration

Wood chip mulch is available for delivery in Connecticut. Call for details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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