3 ways to use woodchip at home
Last year was an incredibly challenging year in many ways, but one of the good things to come out of it (in our view, at least) was how many people discovered an enduring love for gardening.
Within the pandemic, we experienced something of a plantdemic, with people starting their own gardens to relieve stress, grow food and more. It’s been great to see.
But with this blooming interest, it’s important that we gardeners, both old and new, recognise our role in protecting the planet - using growing methods at home that work in harmony with nature (which, in farming, falls under the umbrella of agroecology).
By making important organic and natural considerations – such as using alternatives to pesticides – we can help to save our soils, take care of insects, conserve seeds and so on.
Making “wood” choices
Ben Raskin, our Head of Horticulture, has some brilliant tricks up his sleeve when it comes to nature-friendly gardening, including using woodchip.
“Woodchip is a great resource for nature-friendly gardeners," he told us. "I keep finding new ways to use it in my own garden and when working with farmers. It is readily available and has a ton of benefits in almost all growing situations.”
Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture
Whether you want to get your trees off to a good start, grow abundant tasty veg or create a fragrant, floral paradise, this free, organic and effective resource will help you to create the garden of your dreams in a way that works with nature, not against it.
Find out more about woodchip and Ben’s recommendations for using it below.
What is woodchip?
Woodchip is pretty much what it says on the tin: small chips of wood that you can use, for instance, as an organic compost or “mulch” (a loose covering placed over your soil).
There are lots of benefits to using woodchip:
- It’s 100% organic (and natural) – which gets a big thumbs up from us!
- It’s great at retaining water – helping your soils stay moist by “trapping” water and stopping it from evaporating, contributing to your plants’ health
- It inhibits weed growth – as a layer of woodchip prevents light from getting to weeds, suppressing their growth, and making your garden easier to maintain
- It can act as a “slow” fertiliser – as, when woodchips rot over time, they “feed” the soil
- It provides protection against the weather - as woodchips can help to maintain temperatures in your plant beds throughout the seasons, keeping them cooler in summer and warmer in winter
- It can even defend your plants against pests and diseases – keeping them vibrant and healthy!
- It recycles garden waste – ensuring your excess wood doesn’t have to go to landfill, giving it a better purpose
- It’s free! – as woodchip can be easily created at home if you have enough material or picked up from a local arborist.
1. How to use woodchip as mulch
If you’d like to use woodchip as an organic mulch - to replenish your soils and feed your plants - chipping any species of tree will work, including broadleaf (like oak and lime trees) or conifers (like pine trees).
As long as you don’t dig it into the soil, you can use almost any type of woodchip as a mulch. You should note that, while they won’t have a negative effect on your more mature plants, it’s better to avoid using chippings from big, old trees on beds with young plants or seedlings. Wood needs nitrogen - not present in older wood - to break down, and will initially take some from the soil surface: therefore taking it away from shallow-rooted or very young plants (this is sometimes called “nitrogen robbing”).
Alternatively, avoid worrying about this altogether by giving your woodchips time to age before you use them. Although this will mean you have to replenish your mulch more often, by allowing your woodchips to “rot”, you’ll both reduce the risk of nitrogen robbing and break down any potentially harmful compounds that some species may contain: rendering them safe to use on any plants, old or new. When in doubt – decompose! (It’s a good rule of thumb, though not the most poetic…)
Once you’ve established which types of woodchip you have and want to use, simply spread a layer of that woodchip across the areas of your garden that you’re “feeding” and start reaping its wonderful benefits. You don’t need to be that stingy, either. A deep layer of woodchip (between 3 – 5 inches) over your soil does a good job. Subsequent top ups can be thinner.
To make your marvellous mulch as effective as possible:
- Don’t use it on plants such as small herbs or bulbs (which struggle to grow through any type of mulch, due to their smaller roots)
- Don’t press your woodchips right up against tree bases (or shrubs). Doing so can create an overly wet and low-oxygen environment (as the bases of trees are constantly moist), which can cultivate fungi and disease. Leave a gap
- Do apply it to your grounds between autumn and early spring. Though you can add woodchip to your garden at any point, it’s best to do it before weeds are in abundance, as it can most effectively smother them if it’s applied before they grow
- You may need to top up your mulch as it decomposes. You’ll notice your mulch needs replenishing when weeds start pushing through and it loses some of its depth.
2. How to use woodchip as compost
You can use woodchip to nourish your soils, too, by using it as a compost.
Firstly, you’ll need your woodchip to decompose. To do this as time-effectively as possible, collect small woodchips to age (from, for instance, tiny branches and hedge trimmings), as these will break down a lot more quickly than your “chunky” (wood)chips.
“Well-rotted” woodchip will boost the organic matter in the soil, which in turn, feeds fungi and earthworms and all the other organisms within the soil: ultimately, encouraging healthier plants.
For the best results, leave your woodchip to compost for 6 - 12 months before applying a thin sprinkling to the soil surface. It’s a process that requires patience, but you should be rewarded with robust soils that will make it more than worth the wait.
Woodchip after decomposing for one year
3. How to use woodchip for potted plants
Woodchip doesn’t have to only be applied to your garden plants, either. It also operates very well within containers, e.g. pots, which can be placed inside or outside the home.
For green-fingered folk with a busy lifestyle, woodchips can be a great addition to your potted plants. As a mulch, it’s great for controlling weeds and retaining moisture in the compost, which means you likely won’t have to water them as much (as one example). This will save you time and help your plants flourish throughout the year.
There are a couple of extra considerations when applying woodchip to potted plants, whether as a mulch or compost. It’s important that you:
- Bear your pot’s depth and width in mind. For instance, use smaller woodchips for smaller pots, as there’s less space within the pot to work with
- If you are using freshly chipped material, you may need to apply some additional foliar feed to prevent nitrogen robbing. (This is unlikely to be a problem in larger pots.)
If you compost your woodchip for even longer - up to 18 months - and sieve it, you can even use it as a propagation and potting compost. Peat free and totally sustainable!
Strawberry transplants raised in woodchip substrate
Where to get woodchip
As explored, you can obtain woodchip – to suit a variety of purposes – from broadleaf and conifer trees, as well as from small branches, hedges, and shrubs. Very small pieces of wood (e.g. twigs) can either be shredded or used right away as a mulch (and, if aged, as compost), whereas bigger pieces of wood need to be processed with a woodchipper to fashion them into usable chunks.
Don’t have any trees in your garden? No problem. There are plenty of tree surgeons cutting down trees across the UK every day, and they have lots of woodchip that they sometimes must pay to get rid of. With a bit of research, you can find where they’re based and get woodchip (often for free).
Ultimately, woodchip is a superb natural tool to incorporate into your garden, with plenty of perks for your plants. Why not branch out?
The Woodchip Handbook
If this blog post has piqued your interest in woodchip and you’d like to learn more, then check out my brand new book, The Woodchip Handbook!
This comprehensive woodchip guide includes:
• The importance of woodchip for farmers, gardeners and landscapers
• Scientific and farmer-based research into the many uses of woodchip (as a mulch but also as a propagation material for plant mixes, a growing medium for many types of mushroom and more)
• Where to source or produce your own woodchip.
There’s much more inside, too – everything you need to know to help you master this wonderful, flexible and valuable resource. I hope you enjoy it.
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