How to use mulch
How to use mulch in your garden or allotment
Mulches are super useful for growers. 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 can help you to create the garden of your dreams in a way that works with nature, not against it.
Woodchip is a superb natural tool to incorporate into your garden, with plenty of perks for your plants. Why not branch out?
The benefits of woodchip mulch
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! Woodchip can be easily created at home if you have enough material or picked up from a local arborist.
How to choose a woodchip mulch
If you’d like to use woodchip as mulch, 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.
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. A deep layer of woodchip (between 3 – 5 inches) over your soil does a good job. Subsequent top ups can be thinner.
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
Top tips: a pipe may be used to make sure water infiltrates thick mulch! And don't forget to leave a clear ring around trees to prevent moisture causing disease on the bark.
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!
When to mulch an allotment or bed?
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. So do apply it to your grounds between autumn and early spring if you can.
Where to get woodchip
You can get hold of 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 (like 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.
If you don’t have any trees in your garden to make your own woodchip, there’s an answer. There are 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).
For more ways to use woodchip at home read The Woodchip Manual by Ben Raskin, our Head of Horticulture.
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