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How to Make Mulch From Wood Chips

By Cindy Hill ; Updated September 21, 2017

Mulch deters weeds, retains soil moisture, and stabilizes soil temperature to ease root stress, making for happier, healthier, plants. Wood chips make an ideal landscaping and garden mulch. They start out a yellowish tan, but quickly fade to an attractive silver-gray. Even better, wood chips for mulch are often available from from community solid waste agencies: 20 to 30 percent of landfill space is taken up by yard waste like brush, so many communities are chipping this brush and offering it free. Mulch with wood chips, and make your landscape, and your community, greener.

Turn over a pile of wood chips using a spading fork. Wear gardening gloves. Remove any large pieces of roots and any non-organic debris from the wood chip pile.

Shovel the wood chips into a wheelbarrow, and wheel them to where you intend to apply mulch. Dump the wood chips out nearby, but not on, your intended mulched bed.

Rake the mulch around trees and landscape shrubs using a metal rake. Apply the wood chips 2 to 4 inches deep, and just up to the bottoms of the trunks for trees and shrubs.

Gently pile the wood chips by hand between herbaceous plants like annual and perennial flowers or vegetable plants. Wear gloves while handling wood chips to avoid splinters.


Things You Will Need

  • Wood chips
  • Spading fork
  • Shovel
  • Metal rake
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Garden gloves


  • Keep wood chips back 2 or 3 inches from the stems of herbaceous plants; researchers at Washington State University have learned that wood chips take nitrogen from the environment as they decompose, but only in small amounts right at the surfaces they touch, so keep the wood chips back far enough from small green-stemmed plants to prevent direct contact.
  • Pine bark mulch is acidic, so use it around azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberry bushes, and other acid-loving plants.
  • Compost wood chips for a finer-textured mulch. Layer the wood chips with a high-nitrogen composting material like lawn clippings or poultry manure, for faster composting.


  • Never barbecue or grill over wood chips. Although wood chips make an excellent outdoor patio surface, they are highly flammable.
  • Don't use wood chips up against a house with wood siding or porch framing in areas that experience termite damage.
  • Avoid wood chip mulches that contain walnut or butternut wood. If in doubt, fill three pots with a mixture of mostly wood chips and a little potting soil, and three with plain potting soil. Plant a viable bean seed in each one, water, and place in a warm location. If the beans in the wood chips don't sprout at about the same time as those in the potting soil, your wood chips may contain walnut, butternut, or other plant-growth inhibiting materials, so don't use it around young herbaceous plants.

About the Author


A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.