With the advent of companies offering to deliver free wood chips to your home, there is increased discussion online as to the benefits and possible dangers of using these services. There are some people who just love using wood chips and others who have dire warnings for you. Some of the pros and cons are worth thinking about.
FREE WOOD CHIPS
There are easy ways to get wood chips for free. But is it worth it? There has to be a catch right?
There are now at least two companies that will drop an entire truckload of wood chips on your driveway for free. Registration is online, you provide your address, phone number, and brief instructions on where to drop the load.
You can also call or chase down your local tree service guys and ask for wood chips when they have it. It will save them a trip to the dump and the dump fees.
This sounds so much better than paying $2.50 or more for a 1cu ft bag of wood chips from the big box stores. Or, having to take a drive up to the rockery and get a load of chips from them, and hope they don’t all blow out of the truck on the way home.
About Trees is another company who works with local tree service people to find wood chips. When you register and request wood chips, About Trees reaches out to local services and arranges for a drop-off. As per their site, a drop can be anywhere between 12-30 cubic yards, which they state is “the size of a VW Bug (12yd), or a GMC Suburban (30cu).”
Chip Drop will drop up to 20 cu. yards on your driveway, they state 4 cu. yards as a small load. Whatever they have on the truck that day, will end up on your driveway. Pictures on their website show driveways and street sides full of chips.
A most perplexing problem for people is that once you sign up, the wood chips just keep coming. Tree services will avoid the $100 plus fee to dump the wood chips, and you will be the beneficiary of pile after pile of free wood chips. Make sure to call and cancel your requests or the loads will continue arriving.
HOW BIG IS A DUMP TRUCK?
A reminder of how much an average dump truck full of wood chips is, a typical load dumps a pile approximately 12 feet wide by 6 feet tall. That is a lot of wood chips.
Sourcing free wood chips ticks a lot of the boxes for recycling and sustainability, BUT, you do not know what you are getting.
The wood chips can be made up of all sorts of arboreal detritus. Sometimes you will find small branches, greenery, misc. stuff, large limbs, and things sticking out of it. The good companies have FAQ sections on their sites that explain in detail what typically is in the piles.
So, a 20-ton truck drops a full load of wood chips on your driveway. Now what? Where is all of that mulch going?
If you peruse Craigslist, you could get lucky. There are regular postings from people who have had a truckload of wood chips delivered on their driveway. Their actual needs have been a third or less of the pile, and they are left with a ton of wood chips to get rid of. These people are happy for you to come and take what you need.
Like firewood, wood chips should be seasoned for a year or two before use. Using fresh wood chips can negatively affect the ph. balance in your garden. In fact, tilling fresh wood chips into your garden is toxic for your plants.
Wood chips introduce nitrogen to the garden. Never use them as a soil amendment until they have fully decomposed into compost-like material. Even then, add natural fertilizer to it before it is turned into the garden.
HARMFUL PESTS AND PATHOGENS
Another thing to watch out for is harmful pests that may be introduced into your garden. You don’t know what is in that pile in front of your house. If there is any black walnut, or other noxious plants shipped in, your garden will not be happy.
Too much fungal activity can adversely affect the quality of your soil. You may not notice for a few seasons. Your plants may fail to thrive without an obvious cause.
A certain amount of microbial activity is beneficial in the garden. For the most part, fungus in wood chips only feeds on decomposing wood. Fungal activity is part of the process of amending your soil into beautiful, crumbly, goodness.
However, there are instances where wood chips have introduced fungi that attacks specific plants. Since you don’t know the source of your wood chips, you won’t know what’s in there until your plants are affected.
Another concern is what the trees and other chipped materials have been treated with, there could be harmful pesticides or fertilizers you don’t want in your garden, especially if you have an organic garden.
Now you have your pile of wood chips in front of your house. You don’t know exactly what pests or toxic sprays are on the wood chips. And you probably don’t know what kind of trees are in that pile.
Unless you have extensive gardens or a huge spot at the back of your property, you are going to have a huge pile of chips to deal with. If you have an HOA you may have to deal with your committee and have limited time to get the wood chips off the front of your property.
FRESH WOOD CHIPS
Fresh wood chips need to sit for a while. Sometimes this can be a year or two. To speed up the process keep the wood chips damp by watering every few days. This will speed up the decomposition process.
If you use fresh wood chips they can seriously affect the ph. balance of your soil. The carbon and nitrogen balance has to be specific for your plants to grow. Fresh wood chips should never be mixed into the soil. You will end up with a serious nitrogen deficiency.
Fresh wood chips can be used on paths in your garden. They can also be spread in areas that you don’t want weeds to grow. They will eventually decompose and become beneficial to the soil, or be ready to move into other areas.
AGED WOOD CHIPS
Once your wood chips have seasoned, they can be used as mulch. Mulch is multipurpose. Layer the wood chips a few inches deep to keep weeds at bay, retain moisture in your garden plots, and as an additional method of soil amendment.
A layer of wood chip mulch sitting on top of your soil also protects from erosion. The thick dark layer also encourages beneficial organisms such as worms to work nearer the surface of your garden. It is nice and dark and warm. Your soil will definitely improve over time.
A layer of wood chips makes areas of your garden look good. Putting chips on rose beds, ornamental beds, and other unsightly areas will make them look uniform and tidy. Just keep the wood chips a few inches from the trunks of trees or roses.
You can plant seeds and seedlings after you put wood chips down. Clear a circle down to the soil and plant your seed or seedling. You want to give your plant room to grow. Always keep a bit of space free of chips around your plants as they grow.
ARE FREE WOOD CHIPS FOR YOU?
Organic matter is one of the best things for your garden. As it decomposes it provides food for the soil and amends the soil into healthy, crumbly, goodness. This takes time.
The use of wood chips in your garden is a controversial subject. Before embarking on signing up for a truckload of wood chips, do some research. Perhaps purchase a few bags from your local garden center and experiment.
Committing to an entire dump truck of wood chips from unknown sources could be costly. Not to mention the 12 cu. yards of shredded trees you have dumped on your property. If you are lucky you could find some friends to share the bounty.
If you have a smaller garden, you do not need a truckload of wood chips. There is nothing wrong with waiting for sales at your local garden center and purchasing a few bags of wood chips. Use a landscape calculator to estimate how much wood chips or mulch you need.
If you are unsure read a few articles and watch a few videos. You will then have an idea of what you need.
Let me know if you sign up for free wood chips. I’d love to see a picture of what came off the truck and hear about your experience.
- Starry Hiller explains which chips you want for your garden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLYg3qbGghQ
- How wood chips can harm your garden: https://www.reformationacres.com/2014/05/5-things-you-should-know-about-wood-chip-mulch.html
- Myths and fact about wood chips: http://www.walterreeves.com/landscaping/wood-chips-myths-facts/
- Chip drop: https://getchipdrop.com/
- Wood chips about trees: http://abouttrees.com/
- Fungal activity in the garden that comes with mulch: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/mulch/common-mulch-fungus.htm
- Figure out how much mulch you need: https://www.scotts.com/en-us/tools/mulch-calculator