Can I use wood chips as mulch?

samekid480(6)May 10, 2007

I just recieved a huge truckload of wood chips from the city and I'm wondering if it is okay to use it as mulch. I was told that they may attract ants to my garden. Do ants eat your vegies? Are there any other reasons I shouldn't use the wood chips in my garden? I have about 300 sq. ft. to cover, so I'm hoping the wood chips will work fine. Also I'm going to use wood chips to cover my back porch where the land is eroding from the cement. I would like to build up the soil about 6 inches and put the wood chips on top of that. Can I just throw down a bunch of organic materials and then throw down the wood chips?

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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

To build up soil level for this- you probably want something more soil-like, or fill. Use loam, then mulch over it.

Wood chips are very common mulch material.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 9:59AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Pablo...that IS what he's planning to do. ;-)

Yes, you can build up the soil, and then apply the wood chips as your mulch.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 12:40PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Since they are fresh chips, they will tie up nitrogen as they age and start to break down. If you don't mix them with soil, the only breakdown will be at the soil-mulch interface. Scattering a high nitrogen fertilizer on the surface before spreading the mulch should take care of any problems. This really only applies if you are trying to grow things where the mulch will be - if it's bare ground, it makes no matter.

Ants may make nests in the soil under the mulch, as it will be cool and soft, but will probably not be trouble, unless you have fire ants - although they are more likely to nest in sunny areas. I have heard that ants can kill off trees, by eating their roots, but have no experience - I think it depends on the ants. Some varieties may be a problem and others not. The more likely problem is that freshly ground mulch tends to attract roaches - they are one of the first consumers of freshly ground wood, or of the other things that begin to eat fresh wood. Termites might also be a problem, depending on your area, and on how close the mulch is to your buildings. Double-check with youe local county extension agent about whether any of these are likely to be a problem for you.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 12:56PM
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ziggy___(z5/6 PA)

There are about a gazillion types of ants known to science and probably about two gazillion types they haven't noticed yet. But for the sake of a simple answer, I'll divide them into the three most important types: ants who love wood chips, ants who love plants, and and ants who don't care about either.
The ones in the first category love wood chips and/or other dead vegetation for food and/or housing. They may be attracted by wood chips, but most ants in this category are beneficial in breaking down dead vegetation for your vegies to get the nutrients.
The ones in the second category use plants for food and/or shelter. Some of these guys "farm" aphids. They may be attracted to your garden by the vegies themselves, regardless of the mulch.
The third category will be there regardless of the vegies or mulch. Some of these ants are beneficial hunters of other insects.
These categories overlap a bit, but are generally true. The science guys are a lot farther ahead with describing and naming insects, than they are with figuring out how they live and what they eat. If you look in a real deal scientific book on insects, they identify all those tiny red and black ants by things like what their mandibles (jaws) or antennae (feelers) look like when magnified. Just watching them gives you more practical info than going through all that to get a Latin name and no details.
Wood chips near the porch may be bad for two reasons. First, the wood chips will shrink a lot as they decompose. second, I've read that they attract termites and carpenter ants, which you don't want damaging your house. My personal experience is that they are only interested in larger pieces of wood that they can create a nest in, and not chips or saw dust. It may be an old wives tale from people seeing carpenter ants in wood chips and/or saw dust where trees were removed and not realizing that they were really living in the stump or underground roots. In your area it may be different though.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 1:11PM
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ziggy___(z5/6 PA)

I forgot to mention that if vegetation won't prevent erosion near your porch, you may want to use a geotextile and/or a mulch of river rocks to hold the soil. they won't deteriorate, or wash away.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 1:22PM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Rhizo- I got " Can I just throw down a bunch of organic materials and then throw down the wood chips?" as the soil raising method. I would suggest against that because the OM will shrink.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 1:23PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Be sure to check out all the discussions on using wood chips as mulch that are running over on the Soil & Mulch forum too. The FAQ on that forum addresses some of the pros and cons of wood chip mulch.

My 2 cents on the issue is that there are much better vegetable garden mulches to use other than wood chips - straw, old hay, shredded leaves just to name a few.

Wood chips are very slow to decompose, can possibly (it's debated) tie up nitrogen needed by the plants, jam in the tiller blades, alter soil ph to the acidic side temporarily, if fresh they get too hot to touch much less be near the base of plants, and they attract some unwanted pests. In flower beds and landscaped areas they are great tho should be kept away from the base of the house, but I prefer to keep them out of the veggie garden.

Like you I have been the beneficiary of huge truck loads of chips this year as well as 3 years ago due to ice storms in our area and the out-of state clean-up crews looking for a place to dump. What has worked exceptionally well for me, assuming you have the room to store the pile of them, is to add other compost components to the piles and let them decompose and cool. The 3 year old pile was added to the gardens this year and was wonderful stuff. Perfect compost. The new pile from this year is cooking, hot, and smelling far too "green" for any garden. Later today - if it ever stops raining - it will get quite a bit of cardboard, leaves, and some old dry hay bales added to it to eliminate the odor and dry it out.

Just some thoughts to consider. ;) Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 1:53PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Do a search for ramial wood chips.... Excellent stuff.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 6:47PM
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Since soil is eroding from that area now, what is the slope? If more than a 10 degree slope you might want to terrace the area first, level it at least some, then fill in and then cover with the wood chips.
A common myth that persists is the wood chips used as a mulch will tie up Nitrogen in the soil. It will not. Those people that experience this problem use the wood chips as a soil amendment, they mix them into the soil and when anything is mixed into the soil it is not a mulch but a soil amendment. Use the wood chips on your garden as a mulch with not concerns.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 8:11PM
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Yes you can use wood chips as mulch. One of the best mulches I've ever used!!!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 6:22AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

pablo, you are absolutely correct! Using pure organic matter to create a 'raised' bed will only work for...however long it takes to decompose, lol!

I've used fresh chips as mulch for many years, in various climates and soils. I've never noticed a nitrogen problem, nor would I expect to. However! Some of the arborists in my city are now producing a much smaller chip! It makes a gorgeous mulch, but because of its smaller size, I have supplemented N. I suspect that it is the wise thing to do.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2007 at 2:40PM
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I have used wood chips for years, but in the paths. After I walk on them for a couple years, (and I occasionally bury some kitchen scraps and throw a little soil on the paths), I scoop it into the beds after screening it through a 1/2" screen.
The only "problem" I have seen with it is roaches, which are actually more a problem to my wife.
I asked a buddy, who owns a tree care service, to drop me a few yards load of raw chips in my drive. I guess his message got garbled, because his crew delivered a HUGE load of the finest-grind brown mulch you ever saw. I spread it on the paths anyway. I figure it's the same, just bypassing a year of breakdown. Sure looks purty.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2007 at 10:52AM
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