What are the Best Wood Chips for Garden?

Last updated on November 10th, 2022 at 04:23 pm

Best Wood Chips for Garden

Wood chips for plants are used as garden mulch as well as attractive organic matter around landscape objects such as sculptures and paver walks. 

If you spread wood chips out evenly on your garden soil, they will slowly break down and add important nutrients to the topsoil while keeping the soil moist so roots can get the most out of it. 

Several types of wood chips are available on the market, each with a specific function in the garden and other landscaping areas to produce a healthy environment.

Wood chips and mulch act as a safety net for young vegetables. It keeps weeds from growing, keeps the soil warm in the winter, keeps plants from getting sick, and keeps the soil moist. 

Mulch will keep your garden bed healthy and lush.

Common Wood Chips and Their Applications

Garden wood chip mulch comes in square or rectangular shapes and is made of bark, heartwood, or a combination of the two. 

In reality, depending on the manufacturer, chips can range in length from 1 inch to several inches. Wood chips deteriorate slowly over time due to their huge size. 

Typically, wood chips are laid around bushes, trees, and other perennial garden favorites in garden settings. However, the natural, sharp brown to yellow wood color fades over time.

This decomposed mulch layer can be worked into your soil to increase soil texture and nutrient levels. 

Fresh wood chips, on the other hand, should be kept on top of the soil. According to the Forestry Equipment Guide website, adding wood chips to your compost pile will help break down nitrogen and carbon.

Types of Bark and Wood Chips

Bark wood chips used as mulch give your landscape a dark appearance. Their dark color helps the soil soak up the sun’s heat, which warms the area and makes it easier for seeds to sprout and for seedlings to grow strong. 

Bark chips, which come in chunks or shreds, work well in windy garden areas because they stick to each other and keep the soil from washing away. Weed growth is also slowed by bark mulch.

As the bark breaks down into the soil, good microorganisms like earthworms move into the area. As long as bark and wood chips are easy to get, these bacteria will naturally add oxygen to your soil. If you don’t want to use traditional wood chips as mulch, you can use bark granules as an instant soil conditioner.

1. Compost

best mulch wood chips
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Compost is great for people who grow vegetables because it improves the quality and structure of the soil and keeps roots warm and safe. 

It is a nutrient-rich mix of things that are breaking down, like table scraps and grass clippings, that you can make yourself. The end result? a garden with thriving plants and healthy soil 

Compost serves as a food source and a habitat for beneficial bacteria and earthworms, which aerate your soil, break down organic matter and release chemicals that protect plants from disease. Earthworms are the ideal visitors to your vegetable garden.

Layer depth: 2 to 3 inches

Pro Tip: Want to add more nutrients to your vegetables? Add 1 to 3 inches of finished compost (humus) to your soil at the end of the growing season. It’s a great soil amendment that will help your plants grow strong in the spring.


✓ Excellent resistance to erosion

✓ erosion resistance

✓ Great for organic, DIY gardening

✓ Breaks down rapidly to increase soil nutrients

✓ Nutrient-rich


✗ not as effective as black plastic at weed suppression.

✗ A waiting period is required as the mulch material decomposes.

✗ Can attract pests


2. Grass clippings

Layer depth: 2 to 3 inches

Dry grass clippings are popular among frugal, organic gardeners. Clippings break down quickly, add nutrients to the soil, and keep weeds from growing. If you use your own lawn mower, you can get them for free.

Before spreading a layer of grass clippings over your lawn, make sure they are dry and disease-free.

Wet grass clippings can make a mat that keeps water from getting into the soil, and diseased grass clippings can bring disease-causing organisms to your new garden.

Avoid using herbicide-treated grass clippings because harsh chemicals can harm sensitive vegetables. 

Mow your lawn at least three times before using grass clippings if it has been treated with a mild herbicide. If your lawn has been treated with a harsh herbicide such as 2,4-D or Banvel, you’ll have to wait months before you can use your grass clippings.


✓ Eco-friendly: You’re recycling your own lawn nutrients

✓ Easy to access

✓ Decompose rapidly to give your soil nutrients

✓ Can be folded into the soil at the end of the season


✗ May contain herbicides or weed seeds

✗ Can spread diseases

✗ May look messy

✗ Get stinky and slimy if not fluffed up


3. Black plastic 

Black plastic landscape tarp (also known as polyethylene film) warms the soil and effectively controls weeds. Simply spread it tightly over your soil one to three weeks prior to planting or transplanting, and then cut holes in it when it’s time to spread seeds or dig holes. 

Heat-loving vegetables (such as melons, peppers, tomatoes, and okra) benefit from black plastic mulching: studies show that when black plastic is used as a mulch, they mature earlier and produce more. It has been demonstrated that black plastic can raise soil temperatures by up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The downside? Black plastic breaks down quickly when exposed to sunlight. You’ll need to bury black plastic under a layer of another mulch (like pine needles) to make it last for multiple growing seasons.

It’s vital to punch holes in black plastic. If they don’t, oxygen, water, and nutrients can’t get to the soil, which means plants can’t grow well. 

Consider white or silver mulch instead if you need your soil to stay cool for crops like peas, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. They reflect heat rather than absorb it.

Pros of black plastic

✓ Excellent weed suppressor

✓ Can be reused in the next growing season

✓ Keeps soil warm and moist

✓ Readily available



Cons of black plastic

✗ Visually unappealing

✗ Poor resistance to compaction

✗ Can get too hot and damage plants

✗ Plastic isn’t the preferable eco-friendly choice

✗ Removal of an old tarp can be time-consuming and difficult


4. Straw

straw mulch usage pros and cons
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Straw is an excellent winter mulching material. It insulates the soil, keeps moisture in, and keeps frost heaving at bay. Just make sure you use straw, not hay, and that you get it from a reputable supplier to avoid getting weed seeds with your mulch.

Straw isn’t the most attractive mulch, but it’s cheap and good at keeping the soil from getting too hard, so gardeners use it in the winter and spring. 

3 to 4 inch layer depth

To keep fungi and diseases from getting into your vegetables, don’t put mulch right around the leaves and stems. Maintain a layer of straw in the center areas between plants. To increase your harvest of potatoes, spread straw where you would normally put them.

Pros of straw

✓ Keeps soil moist

✓ Reduces the need to aerate

✓ Inexpensive

✓ Regulates soil temperature in winter


Cons of straw

✗ Easily blows away

✗ Can attract rodents

✗ Doesn’t offer as many soil nutrients as compost

✗ Fire hazard

5. Leaves

Partially decomposed leaves, also called “leaf mold,” are great for getting rid of weeds and giving your garden more nutrients. They improve the structure of the soil, add more organic matter, and help the soil hold on to water, so it can withstand droughts.

If you don’t have time for the leaves to decompose or want to provide a warm winter habitat for pollinators, choose coarsely shredded dry leaves. They effectively suppress weeds but do not prevent compaction like partially decomposed leaves. 

As the leaves decompose, dig them into the soil and cover with a fresh layer of mulch. Avoid adding anthracnose, scabs, or leaf spot-infected leaves to your lawn because they can spread disease. 

Also, black walnut tree leaves contain juglone, which can harm vegetables like peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes. And don’t add leaves from black walnut trees: They contain juglone, which can harm veggies like peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes. 

Layer depth: 2 to 3 inches

Pros of leaves

✓ Inexpensive or free

✓ Easy to access

✓ Decompose quickly to improve soil quality

✓ Certain leaves (oak and beech) are great for acid-loving veggies


Cons of leaves

✗ Dry leaves blow away

✗ Wet leaves could form a stinky mat

✗ Dry leaves can be a fire hazard

✗ Finely shredded leaves can prevent water infiltration


6. Pine needles

pine needle mulch for garden
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Pine needles, which are also called “pine straw,” are great for acidic plants like celery, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes. They stick together so they don’t blow away in the wind. They also keep the soil from getting too hard, which keeps it healthy and able to breathe.

Pine needles are great for acid-loving plants, but they won’t permanently make your soil more acidic. As they decompose, they neutralize

Layer depth: 3 to 4 inches

Pros of pine needles

✓ Long lifespan (2-4 years)

✓ Visually appealing

✓ Inexpensive or free

✓ Release pleasant aroma as they age


Cons of pine needles

✗ Can be a fire hazard

✗ Won’t form a water-resistant mat (as grass clippings are prone to do)

✗ Not ideal for plants that prefer alkaline soil


7. Cocoa hulls

cocoa hulls mulch for garden
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Cocoa bean hulls smell like chocolate heaven and give your vegetable garden a touch of useful elegance. —They are resistant to compaction and attract earthworms, so your soil will be light, airy, and nutrient-rich: ideal for growing vegetables!

It contain theobromine, which is toxic to dogs, so keep them out of reach of pets. 

If you can’t find cocoa hulls, try buckwheat or cottonseed hulls as a decorative garden mulch. They have the same mulching benefits as cocoa hulls and may be easier to find in your area.

Layer depth: 1 inch

Pros of cocoa hulls

✓ Lightweight and easy to apply

✓ Strong weed suppression

✓ High visual appeal

✓ Long-lasting

✓ Excellent compaction resistance


Cons of cocoa hulls

✗ Expensive

✗ Toxic to pets if consumed

✗ Prone to surface mold

✗ Damp cocoa hulls attract pests

✗ Unavailable in certain regions of the country


Rocks and Stones

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Rocks are typically more expensive than organic mulch. However, because river rock, stones, and landscaping pebbles are inorganic materials, they do not degrade and do not need to be reapplied every year. 

However, this also implies that they do not enhance your soil over time. When using stone as mulch, use caution because stones can become extremely hot in the sun. 

Cactus and rock gardens frequently make use of stones. If you want to use pebbles and stones as mulch in a place where no plants will grow, such as under a deck, cover the soil first with sheer landscaping fabric. This will keep weeds from growing through the rock.


Growing vigorous veggies

By using mulch, you can get a lot of fresh vegetables without having to pull weeds and water them all the time. It’s a great way to give your young vegetables the care they need to grow up healthy. If you’re in the mood for mulch, you can buy it at your local garden center or make your own out of yard waste.


Benefits of mulch for vegetable gardens

Mulch provides numerous advantages for your vegetable garden.

  • Weed suppression ensures that vegetables do not have to compete for water and nutrients with aggressive weeds (such as dandelions and bindweed).
  • Prevents drought-related problems (such as tomato blossom-end rot) by retaining soil moisture.
  • Insulates the soil, protecting roots from winter stress and encouraging early spring growth. Dark mulches warm up the soil, whereas light mulches keep it cool.
  • Reduces erosion and runoff, preventing soil from floating away during heavy rains or blowing away during windstorms. 
  • By acting as a barrier and preventing soil splash, it helps to reduce the spread of soil-borne diseases. Cucumber, tomatoes, and squash can rot if soil-borne disease organisms contact the plant.

Mulch made from sawdust

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Use wood chip sawdust as a mulch if you grow acid-loving plants. Because sawdust has a large surface area and breaks down quickly, it temporarily makes the topsoil more acidic. Sawdust breaks down quickly, so unlike larger wood chip mulch options, it needs to be replaced every year.

To reduce matting and compaction around perennials and annuals, use a coarse sawdust cut. Sawdust, unlike larger wood chip mulch options, requires yearly layer renewals due to its quick breakdown.

Alternatively, make a natural boardwalk out of sawdust in your garden. However, do not spread any sawdust obtained from construction materials, such as plywood. Chemicals in sawdust can leak into the soil and cause plant dieback.

Chipped Wood

Mulch in landscaping refers to organic items that are used in gardens to conserve water, enhance soil, and provide aesthetic ground cover. Bark mulch is a common sort of mulch that comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. 

There are also many other kinds of wood mulch that feed the soil as they break down, keep the soil moist, and make your garden look better.

Wood Chip Mulch Varieties

There are many different types of wood mulch, and it can be difficult to determine which one to use in your garden beds. 

The five most prevalent types are shown below, along with reasons why you should or should not use them in your landscape. Mulch comes in two varieties.

Mulch is classified into two types: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulch, like leaves, pine needles, and compost, used to be alive, so it breaks down. As it breaks down, it adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil, which improves the texture and quality of the soil. As a result, it is especially good for root health and plant growth.

Organic mulch is the best way to get the best soil for your vegetables to grow in the long term.

Because inorganic mulches (such as landscaping textiles, black plastic, and gravel) were never alive, they either do not disintegrate or breakdown slowly. Inorganic mulches outlast biological mulches and are incredibly efficient weed barriers, which may be exactly what your veggies want.

You don’t have to put down new mulch every season if you use inorganic mulch to keep weeds away.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Wood Chip Mulch

In general, scatter your wood chips for garden mulch to a 2-inch depth around plants. Thicker mulch layers lead to compaction and prevent rainfall from penetrating the soil beneath. Maintain a 24-inch gap between your home and the mulched area to keep wood chip pests like termites at bay.

If you place wood chip mulch against the bark of a tree, it will decay. Make a 6-inch bare soil space between the trunk and the mulch. When used right, wood chips add to the look of your garden and raise the temperature of the soil.


Fresh Wood Chips for Mulch: Are They Harmful or Beneficial?

Good gardeners understand that a thick covering of mulch will benefit garden plants in a variety of ways. 

Some of the benefits are less weeding, cooler soil in the summer, saving water (so you don’t have to water as often), and the slow addition of organic matter as organic mulches break down. All of this contributes to better plant growth.

Mulch can be made from a variety of resources. People often ask me if they can use fresh wood chips (also called “arborist chips”) in their yard or garden. Fresh wood chips are often available at city dumps, compost sites, and at homes where trees have been cut down.

In contrast, compost is used as a soil amendment, which is material that is stirred into the soil to improve its texture and provide other benefits. A good compost is in an advanced state of decomposition, and it should be impossible to discern what it was built of.

People frequently express various reservations about utilizing arborist wood chips for mulching. Some people are concerned that infections on the wood will spread to beautiful plants. 

Plant pathologists 

don’t think that the right conditions are likely to come together in this way to spread diseases. Again, wood chips are applied on the soil’s surface rather than being integrated where plant roots exist. So, don’t be concerned about diseases.

There are also naturally occurring chemicals called allelopathic chemicals that could, in theory, get into the soil and hurt nearby plants if they leach out. 


is when a plant gives off chemicals that stop or slow the growth of nearby plants, usually seeds and young plants that are just starting to grow. 

Over the years, research has shown that wood chips have no negative impact on established plants. 

Walnut is one tree that has been shown to have allelopathy; however, it is unusual that you will come across wood chips with a high walnut percentage.

Fresh wood chips myth

It is a frequent misperception that fresh wood chips bind nitrogen during decomposition. Nitrogen depletion will, without a doubt, be a temporary issue when fresh wood chips are integrated into the soil, which is why we should only use fresh chips as surface mulch. 

In this case, nitrogen loss would be limited to the top layer of soil, which might explain why fresh wood chip mulches are good at stopping seeds from sprouting. 

Because of this, as well as the overall coarseness of wood chips, they are usually best avoided in vegetable and annual flower beds.

Benefits of wood chip mulch? 

Because most wood chips from tree services are made up of bark, sapwood, hardwood, and leaves (from plants that grow during the growing season or evergreen plants), as they break down, they release small amounts of nutrients. 

Furthermore, when they decompose, they enrich the organic matter in the soil. This organic debris is worked down into the soil by earthworms and insects that dwell in and burrow through the soil. Plant growth benefits from increased organic matter in the soil.

Using locally produced wood chips is a sustainable practice that keeps a usable product out of the landfill, which is good for both the environment and the economy.

To get Most out of fresh wood chip mulch

To reap the most benefits from wood chips, use them at a depth of 4 to 6 inches. They degrade quickly and will settle after a few weeks. As with any organic mulch, it needs to be refilled regularly to keep working to keep weeds down and water in the soil.

Do not stack them against tree trunks because the constant dampness on the tree trunks can invite pests and diseases. This is known as “mulch volcanoes,” and it is not a recommended technique. Instead, spread them out like a donut to avoid direct contact with tree trunks.


When should I apply mulch to my garden? 

Mid-spring is the ideal time to apply a thick layer of mulch around your vegetable garden. As temperatures rise, mulch will keep the soil warm and keep water in, so plants can grow well. Mulching should be avoided in early spring when the weather is still cold, as it can slow the warming process. 

Mulching in the fall and winter can also be beneficial, but make sure your mulch layer is no more than 4 inches thick. Too much mulch can harm plant roots. 

Avoid mulching during the peak of the summer. You don’t want to overheat your veggies!

How do I water plants under a black plastic tarp? 

It’s best to install a drip irrigation system underneath the black plastic. While you can water with a sprinkler over the top, a drip system will deliver water straight to the roots.

How often should I use mulch? 

Generally, you’ll want to spread mulch before each growing season, though it varies depending on what type of mulch you choose. Black plastic can last for years without needing to be replaced, but grass clippings might need to be used more than once during the growing season. 

How long does it take for leaf mulch to be ready? 

Compost leaves for 6 to 18 months before mulching. Your leaf mulch is ready when it is friable (crumbly), drier than it originally was, and slightly above air temperature.

When is cedar mulch not appropriate?

Cedar mulch is an excellent technique to assist your soil in retaining moisture. However, if your plants’ soil is already very damp, this can pose major problems. Cedar mulch shouldn’t be put on soil that doesn’t drain well, wetlands, or low spots where rainwater pools.

Is it worthwhile to purchase a wood chipper?

If you require a machine with a lesser capacity, you should buy it. Small versions have lower rental and purchase prices than larger models. If you require a large-capacity machine to grind wood waste and make mulch on a regular basis, purchasing will save you money and time.

Read More:

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