How to Break Down Wood Chips


After pruning shrubs and trees, cutting down a tree, or removing old mulch, you may have been left with an abundance of wood chips. Disposing of these is expensive and seems wasteful, as they are rich in organic matter if broken down. Composting is one of the simplest ways to break down plant matter into a soil amendment. There are special considerations when using wood chips, as they break down slower than other plant materials.

Step 1

Shred the wood chips with a wood chipper or hand ax. Make the chips as small as possible.

Step 2

Mix equal parts of wood chips and dead leaves to add carbon to the compost pile. Mix in equal amounts of grass clippings or green plant materials to add nitrogen to the pile. The carbon and nitrogen are needed for the compost to heat up and break down properly.

Step 3

Add compost activator to the pile and follow the label's instructions. Add two to three shovels of finished compost to the pile if compost activator isn't available.

Step 4

Water the compost pile just enough to moisten it. Turn the pile after watering with a garden fork to ensure that all materials are equally moist.

Step 5

Turn the pile weekly to speed the composting process. Wood chips can take up to two years to break down, but frequent turning hastens the process. The chips are broken down when the compost resembles dark brown soil and there are no recognizable chips in it.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid making the pile too large, as it won't heat and break down the wood properly. Make the pile approximately 3 by 5 feet, and no higher than 4 feet tall.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood chipper
  • Ax
  • Dead leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Compost activator
  • Garden fork


  • University of Maine Extension: How Compost Happens
Keywords: break down wood chips, composting wood, soil amendment

About this Author

Jenny Harrington is a freelance writer of more than five years' experience. Her work has appeared in "Dollar Stretcher" and various blogs. Previously, she owned her own business for four years, selling handmade items online, wholesale and via the crafts fair circuit. Her specialties are small business, crafting, decorating and gardening.