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How to Break Down Wood Chips

By Jenny Harrington ; Updated September 21, 2017

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


Things You Will Need

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


  • Use 1 cup of nitrogen fertilizer if you don't have enough grass clippings for the pile.
  • Create two piles, one for wood chips and the other as a standard compost pile. Use the standard pile while waiting for the wood chips to break down.
  • Compost activator or finished compost adds the micro-organisms to the pile that are necessary to the wood chip compost pile.


  • 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.

About the Author


Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.