#144 - Is Using Wood Chips As A Garden Mulch A Bad Idea?
I had mentioned earlier in a post on Facebook that I will be using wood chips on the pathways between my raised garden beds, and also mulching the beds with wood chips once they are planted. Someone advised me that I can use wood chips for the pathways, but never to use them in the garden beds because the wood chips will steal nitrogen away from the plants.
Unfortunately, this is a complete myth that has been going around for years. Wood chips do not rob nitrogen from the plants in a garden, or from fruit trees when used as a mulch. It is true that if you were to mix the wood chips down into the soil, nitrogen would be taken from the soil to break down the wood chips, but I am not mixing the wood chips down into the soil I am placing it on top of the soil as a mulch which I have done for years since I first started gardening. I have never once had any issues with using wood chips as a garden mulch.
I did this exact same thing at my last house on the mainland. The ground was completely dead when I moved in to the house, in much the same way as my current soil condition. After placing wood chips on the dead dirt for 5 years, I ended up having rich living soil down to a depth of 16 inches deep. If I would have not moved to Hawaii, I could have continued adding wood chips each year creating an even deeper rich soil.
A friend of mine who first taught me the benefits of using wood chips as a mulch to revitalize dead soil and turn it back into rich living soil started out with completely dead dirt that weeds would not even grow well in. 10-years later he has rich black living soil over 30 inches deep, all by adding wood chips to the ground in a deep mulch layer.
Adding wood chips as a mulch is one of the very best ways that you can restore poor, sandy, or clay dirt into rich, living soil. Over time as the wood chips slowly break down they add organic material as well as nutrients to the soil. Wood chips are also a great home for beneficial insects and other organisms that build healthy living soil like earthworms, bacteria, and fungi.
Wood chips or any other organic material used as a mulch also provide protection to the soil, keeping it from getting too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. It also saves you from having to water so often by preventing the ground from drying out as quickly. A layer of mulch on the ground also prevents weeds from being able to grow, saving you time from having to battle weeds to keep them under control.
There are many different kinds of mulch that you can use, but wood chips outlast all of them, meaning you won't have to replace them as often. If you are using wood chips to restore poor ground to rich healthy living soil, it is recommended to add an 8" to 12" layer of wood chips the first time, and then each year top it off with an additional 3" to 4". Within about 5 to 10 years you will have extremely fertile soil underneath the wood chips without adding anything at all to the soil other than plain wood chips.
This is exactly why I will be using wood chips to cover the ground between my raised beds. The landscapers have completely ruined my soil by constantly spraying herbicides to control weeds instead of using natural weed control methods. They have killed all of the life within my soil turning it into useless dead dirt. I will be using the wood chips to revive it and bring it back to life. As the bacteria, fungi, insects, and worms work to break down the wood chips slowly over time, they are adding the nutrients from the wood chips back into the ground.
When using wood chips, or any mulch for that matter, in a garden or around the base of trees you need to make sure that the mulch is not up against the stem of the plants. Keep the mulch about 6 inches away from the base of the plant so that it covers the root area of the plant, but not the stem of the plant.
Most plants do not like having their stems buried in the soil, which is basically what you are doing if you pile mulch up around their stem. You may actually causes some fungal diseases to happen in your plants if you pile mulch up around the stem of the plants. So give them room to breathe and allow plenty of air circulation around their bases and you won't have these problems.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73