Which Is Better – Wood Chips Or Mulch?

Both wood chips and mulch are tree products. Each is often used to improve the quality of the soil.

Contrary to popular belief, wood chips and mulch are two different things. They work differently; hence, choosing your best option requires you to understand wood chips and mulch in detail.

Types of wood chips

  • Untreated Wood Chips

Untreated wood chips typically refer to small pieces of wood used as garden mulch. These wood pieces can have leaves and barks; it all depends on where they came from.

Unlike shredded mulch, wood chips often have larger particles. The pieces in wood chips measure 5 inches in length and 3 inches wide. Wood chips significantly boost the nutritional content of the soil since they have a wide range of nutrients.

Wood chips tend to take up a lot of moisture and decompose into the soil gradually than shredded mulch.

Fortunately, purchasing wood chip mulch is quite affordable. You can simply obtain it for a lower price in your garden store. You also have the option of buying dyed wood chips.

However, before purchasing wood chips, ensure you check whether it contains harmful chemicals. Dyed wood chips can be dangerous to the soil and plants in the long run.

Untreated wood chips are ideal for mulching around shrubs and trees. When spreading wood chips, do not pile them up at the base of the plant. Instead, place the chips in a ring. Doing this protects the plant from getting fungal infections. Also, it fosters proper aeration around the plant.

  • Shredded Wood Mulch

Unlike wood chips, shredded wood mulch originates from paper and lumber industries. Therefore, it does not come directly from the tree. More often than not, gardeners use shredded mulch for flower beds.

Shredded mulch comes in a wide range of colors; so, you can always choose your option. Even so, dyed shredded wood mulch is not always a good alternative because it can lead to environmental degradation.

Some dyes, however, are always harmless and used to make the mulch appear more even. It would be best to check the ingredients of the mulch before using it.

Additionally, evaluate all your plants’ requirements. Over time, shredded wood mulch tends to become compact. Use a rake to fluff it up slightly to enable water to reach the plants easily. Ensure you keep the shredded mulch thick to reduce the growth of weeds.

  • Bark Mulch

Bark mulch originates from tree bark. It often contains different wood types and comes in different sizes. One of the main advantages of bark mulch is that it offers more durability compared to wood mulch.

Nevertheless, bark mulch does not work well in rainy areas since bark can runoff from the soil. Bark mulch improves the water retention properties of the soil and prevents light from reaching the weeds.

Can you use fresh wood chips as mulch?

Fresh wood chips do not make a good mulch material. Unlike old wood chips, they tend to take away a good percentage of nitrogen from the soil. And this hinders healthy plant growth.

Remember, nitrogen is an essential nutrient needed for plant growth. If your plants or trees require nitrogen, avoid using fresh wood chips as mulch.

If you’ve already used fresh wood chips as mulch, monitor your plants from time to time. Check for yellowing and shedding of leaves.

If you shouldn’t use fresh mulch, what should you use?

Generally, mulch is a blend of organic materials, wood, and leaves that eventually decompose into the soil. Mulch often improves the texture and quality of the soil.

If you want to make mulch, it is always advisable to mix new mulch material with older mulch material. This way, the mulch will work effectively. For instance, consider mixing fallen leaves with older wood chips.

What are the rules for application?

When spreading wood chip mulch, avoid the tree trunk areas. Leave the base of the plant bare to protect it from pests and diseases. Once you leave sufficient space at the base of the trunk, continue spreading the mulch.

The mulch should incorporate a thickness of approximately four to six inches. After application, leave the mulch to decompose.

Mulch is likely to break down from the start of the application. So, keep monitoring the mulch to see if you need to add more materials. Moreover, it is essential to check the condition of your plant.

Ensure it is reacting positively to the mulch. If you notice any signs of plant damage, consult a gardening professional for the best solution.

Are there guidelines for applying wood chips and mulch?

When applying wood mulch to your garden, there are specific guidelines to follow if you wish to obtain the best results. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Avoid over-mulching:

The first rule is to avoid applying too much mulch. Having excess mulch releases excess nitrogen to your garden. Too much nitrogen can damage the plant foliage. So, avoid using a lot of mulch.

  • Place it far from your house:

Avoid applying mulch near your property and vehicle. Naturally, wood chip mulch tends to generate fungus that can stain your walls and car. Wood mulch also attracts termites that can infest your house. Maintain a distance of at least 30 feet between the wood mulch and your home.

Never use wood mulch on plants that are more susceptible to diseases. Some of these plants include roses and tomatoes. This is because wood mulch harbors fungi.

What are other applications for mulch?

Wood mulch is perfect for preventing the growth of weeds. Therefore, it works best when used near pavers and dividers. Wood mulch prevents the penetration of sunlight beneath the soil.

Consequently, wood mulch inhibits weed germination. So, consider using wood mulch on your pavers and stepping stones. Wood mulch is also ideal for preventing soil erosion. Apply it on your playing grounds, among other bare spots.

Can I use mulch made from a tree with disease?

Diseases can’t spread from the tree to the wood mulch. Wood mulch has a lot of fungi. However, it does not contain pathogens.

Even if the tree from which the wood mulch originated had pathogens, the mulch is perfectly safe for use. Thus, there are minimal chances of wood mulch passing pathogens to a healthy tree.

Are wood chips flammable?

Contrary to popular belief, wood chips are not a fire hazard. However, you have to keep it moist to avoid any combustion. All in all, it is rare for wood chips to cause fires in your garden.

Should you use compost before applying mulch?

Before applying mulch in your garden, consider laying a foundation of compost first. Applying compost before mulch is not compulsory. But it can help you improve your soil quality.

This way, your plant will obtain all the necessary organic nutrients for growth. If the soil does not contain sufficient nutrients, ensure you apply compost.

It would be best to check the nutrients present in the soil using a test kit. Afterward, determine whether you’ll apply compost before the mulch. There is usually no harm in doing this.

How old do my wood chips have to be before they make good mulch?

As mentioned earlier, using fresh mulch is not a good practice. So, how long should you wait to use your wood chips?

Gardening professionals usually recommend using wood chips that are one year old. The more you wait, the more your wood chips will make a better mulch.

Fortunately, applying wood much is not a complex process. All you need to do is monitor your plants from time to time to ensure they are receiving sufficient nutrients. You may have to mix fresh mulch with old colored mulch at times if you don’t have the patience to wait for one year.

Mulch and wood chips – which one wins?

At the end of the day, the better mulch option depends on your plant requirements and preference. So, ensure you evaluate all your plant needs before using wood chips or mulch for mulching.

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