How to Compost Wood Chips & Additives


Because of their low moisture levels, wood chips provide an ideal bulking agent for your compost pile, according to Washington State University. Bulking agents increase the oxygen levels in your compost pile, which promotes faster composting, as long as you combine adequate nitrogen-rich organic waste with your wood chips. Use organic compost additives, such as animal manure, plain topsoil or finished compost, to jump-start the composting process by giving an initial boost of nitrogen to your carbon-rich wood chip compost. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, these natural compost additives, or activators, provide the millions of decomposing bacteria with protein, promoting bacterial growth and reproduction.

Step 1

Prepare a well-draining, sunny composting location that's at least 3 feet by 3 feet, using a hoe. Remove any grass covering the soil at your composting location to allow the millions of bacteria present in the dirt to have immediate access to your wood chip compost.

Step 2

Chop up any large wood chips with a trowel or shovel, slicing them to a diameter of 1½ inch or less to decrease the amount of work the decomposing bacteria have to do to break down the woody material. Mix the wood chips with an equal amount of a finely chopped carbon-rich organic material, such as dead leaves. Sprinkle this mixture of carbon-rich material across the exposed soil at your composting site in a 2- to 3-inch layer.

Step 3

Cover the base layer of wood chips with a 1- to 2-inch layer of your compost additives, which serve the purpose of being both activators and the main nitrogen sources for your compost heap. Sprinkle the small particles of loose topsoil and cow manure across the wood chips, moistening them with a trickle of water from your garden hose. Repeat the alternate layers of carbon-rich wood chips and dead leaves with your nitrogen-rich compost additives until your compost heap measures at least 3 feet tall. Allow your wood chip compost heap to heat up for three to four weeks.

Step 4

Turn and mix the layers with your manure fork. Shift the waste in the center of your heap to the outside edges and toss the organic waste from the sides of the pile to the center of the compost heap. Repeat this aerating process at least once every 5 to 10 days to allow your wood chips to compost in as little as six months. Check the moisture level once daily to ensure that your pile remains about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never use manure from meat-eating animals in your compost heap, since it contains pathogens that may survive the hot composting temperatures and go on to infect humans.

Things You'll Need

  • Hoe
  • Trowel/shovel
  • Dried leaves
  • Garden hose
  • Manure fork


  • Washington State University: Backyard Composting
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Materials for Composting
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide;" Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
Keywords: wood chip compost, composting with wood, wood chips

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.