17 Pros and Cons of Wood Chip Mulch

One of the most affordable ways to add mulch to your garden, flowerbeds, or yard is to use wood chips. This product contains pieces of ground up bark and wood that is useful for mulching around shrubs, perennials, trees, and small fruiting plants. You can improve the drainage in the surrounding soil, increase the temperature around the roots, and prevent damage from the precipitation.

Most experts suggest that a layer of up to four inches of wood chip mulch is necessary to provide the correct level of protection. You must also offer an expansion of up to 6 feet around the base of the plant to encourage its growth. As a general rule, you will need to mulch deeper and wider when the item in question is larger. The exact amount can also depend on the size of the chips that are in the mulching product.

Because this mulch is a natural product, there are fewer environmental concerns to worry about when choosing it over synthetic or rubber products. There are some significant wood chip mulch pros and cons to review, so here are the key points to think about before adding this product to your property.

List of the Pros of Wood Chip Mulch

1. It can help the soil to retain more of the moisture it receives.
One of the issues that outdoor plants must manage is moisture retention. On a day that is dry and hot, much of the surface water in the soil can evaporate, leaving nothing left to consume. When you add a wood chip mulch to your yard and gardens, then less of it leaves the soil. That means you can usually water your plants less often, especially if you take the time to rake and fluff the mulch about once per month.

2. Wood chips break down in the soil over time.
Although rubber and synthetic mulches provide a longer lifespan for your investment, these products contribute nothing to the overall health of your soil. The organic materials in the wood chip mulch will start to break down over the year to add their elements to your beds and gardens. Although this can make your systems become out of balance if they are already at or near their peak health, soils which perform poorly due to a lack of fertility can see a significant improvement when you add this mulching option at the start of the planting season.

3. You can use wood chip mulch to repel some pests.
There are certain trees that do an excellent job of repelling pests naturally. If you use pine, cedar, or cypress wood chips for your garden and flowerbeds, then you will help to reduce the flea populations that might be present on your property. Those options will also work to start eliminating gnats and ticks that may be around your home. There are some concerns about placing a wood product next to a structure, so try to keep this product around trees, beds, and other areas that are far enough away from your house that it won’t present a pest danger or fire hazard.

4. It will improve soil temperatures throughout the winter for your plants.
When you have a layer of mulch sitting above your soil with the correct depth, then you are creating an insulative layer that can reduce the shock of winter to your perennials. It maintains the temperatures near the surface more consistently so that you receive healthier plans when spring arrives. You will suffer less frost damage with it in place as well without reducing the amount of moisture that can reach the roots whenever the snow decides to arrive on your property.

5. Mulching helps to control the weeds that are in your gardens and beds.
When you place a layer of mulch that is 2-4 inches thick (depending on your situation) on your gardens and beds, then you will impede weed growth throughout the season. This benefit occurs because less sunlight can reach the unwanted plants. You cannot place the wood chip mulch too early because then your seeds might struggle to germinate. It is usually a good idea to create this barrier right after you transplant items outside or having existing trees and shrubs that would benefit from its presence.

6. You can help to prevent soil erosion by adding mulch.
You are creating a defensive layer for your gardens and beds with wood chip mulch that will also act as a stop against erosion. The natural pieces will lock together when they experience moisture or wind movement if you use items larger than shavings or dust to create a firm surface that offers enough strength to reinforce almost any area. That shield can work against you during the growing season at times too, so try to rake and fluff the bark enough to let moisture in without doing it too much if you have concerns about the stability of the soil.

7. Mulching helps you to maintain the nutrients of the soil.
Because you aren’t losing soil to erosion and water doesn’t disappear because of evaporation, your soil becomes healthier over time because it can maintain its natural nutrient level by itself. Adding manure, compost, or other beneficial items can hasten this advantage along to give you strong plants, flowers, and landscaping in sometimes less than a full season. Be careful about adding direct composting items to the soil like egg shells or other food items because you can attract rodents that way. If you don’t have a compost pile started at home, you can usually pick up a couple of bags at your local nursery or home supply store.

8. Wood chip mulch encourages earthworms to arrive.
When you use organic materials to mulch your flowerbeds and gardens, then you will encourage more earthworms to occupy your soil. Most soil health issues are due to the lack of their presence because they are needed to provide nutrient cycling and structure. Even if the quality of your soil is very poor, you can add a layer of commercial top soil, and then a layer of wood chip mulch on top of that, to encourage a fast improvement in quality on your property.

9. It will give your property a polished look.
Mulch is an affordable addition to any landscaping project. Even if you do not purchase your wood chips in bulk, the cost of a bag at your local store is usually less than $5. That makes it an affordable property improvement project which can provide an immediate boost to your curb appeal. Since this product is easy to care for and won’t compete with your plants for attention, it is a low-maintenance option to consider as well. Just make sure that there are borders around your beds to prevent large chips from going out into your lawn to create the potential for danger to your mower.

List of the Cons of Wood Chip Mulch

1. It can increase the amount of fungal growth you experience.
When you plant a garden, then your vegetable plants love to have a soil which has a lot of bacteria in it. They’ll consume the organic material as a nutrient, allowing for growth and production throughout the season. If you add wood chip mulch as a way to protect this space, you will see a few years of improvement with this product. Then the fungi will begin to establish dominance in your yard, which can lead to a decline in production. Because you’re using organic materials for this process, problems can be seen in as little as 2-3 years in some environments.

2. You will need to use more composted manure to maintain your ratios.
Because you will receive a higher ratio of carbon to nitrogen when using wood chips on your property, there is an enormous amount of composted manure that you may need to add to your garden or flowerbeds to offset the difference. Most vegetables need to have a difference of 30 to 1 or lower, but if you add fresh wood mulch the soil can quickly reach 90 to 1. If you need to put in that much work to stabilize everything, then you are better off composting with the manure in the first place since you’ll receive many of the same benefits.

3. The mulch tends to compact more over the season when compared to other options.
When you start using small chips and shavings of wood to serve as mulch, then your beds will begin to compact over time as the organic product starts compressing. Smaller and thinner pieces break down quickly outside, so you will need to take the time to regularly rake what you add to the garden to prevent it from becoming a dense, useless layer over the soil.

When you start to experience this disadvantage, the wood chip mulch can become so compact that it can block water from reaching the root of your plants. It can also block the air flow, which can lead to root rot and higher levels of fungal growth.

4. You will have a higher risk of suffering from a termite problem with this option.
If you already have a termite problem on your property, then adding wood chip mulch to your garden or yard will make the pests become more attracted to your home. Since these insects feed off of the exact organic material you’re adding around your home, it serves as an open invitation to explore potential gaps in your structure. Since they are small, the size of the problem can be minimal, but it can leave you with a huge headache.

Since most termite damage is not covered by your homeowners’ insurance policy, adding wood chip mulch to the beds that are next to your home is not usually recommended.

5. There are appearance problems to deal with at the end of the season.
Some wood chip mulch comes with colorization that can provide an immediate improvement to the aesthetic of your yard. After spending a full season managing the elements for you, most products see their hues fade. Some even become a gray color which is not very attractive, sort of like the tones you have on an old fence or deck that needs some new stain. You’ll need to add a fresh layer of mulch after raking and fluffing your beds to restore the look each year.

6. You are creating an additional fire hazard for your property.
When you place wood chips or shavings around your home or outside structures, then you are creating a potential fire hazard. This disadvantage presents itself in climates that are dry and hot most often, but it is a risk for everyone to consider. You’ll need to keep any cooking equipment, lanterns, lighters, and fires away from your mulch to avoid a monumental problem.

Wind becomes a significant factor with this disadvantage as well. The chips or shavings are lighter than other mulch options, so you could have them blow away on you with a large enough storm. If they catch fire and then start to move, you could find yourself with an inferno in the worst-case scenario.

7. There are specific tree problems to consider with wood chip mulch.
If you are working with plants that require a specific level of soil acidity, then using shavings or chips from a pine tree is not a good idea because this product adds acid to the soil. You should never use mulch from a black walnut tree because it will stop all plant growth immediately. Any trees that carry a disease or fungi will spread the problem to the ground when it is used as mulch as well, so it is on you to determine the overall quality of a commercial product that you use on your property.

8. It can cause some disease issues with trees and shrubs.
If you decide to use a wood chip mulch around your trees and shrubs, then you must make sure that the product doesn’t get piled up along the trunk or root base. If that should happen, then you can spread disease or fungal issues to them, which can quickly compromise their overall health. You may wish to avoid mulching any trees near your house to avoid a weak trunk that could topple during a heavy windstorm because of this disadvantage.

The pros and cons of wood chip mulch will help you to decide if this landscaping option can benefit your property today. There are situations where this is the best product you could use, but there are also times when you would want to try a different solution. If you’re not sure which mulching product to purchase, then test the quality of your soil to see what it needs. Then you can find the best solution for your gardens and beds.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.