Uses for Wood Chips

Photo: whitneybee/FlickrAs I write this morning, the warm early March sun is beaming down and I can hear the sound of a neighbor's chainsaw busily at work a few acres away. While this weather might be deceptive, with more harsh days predicted ahead, it along with the chainsaw is a reminder that I'm likely to be looking at a lot of wood chips in my near future. Between trees felled during winter storms and some selective tree removal to keep my garden light and airy, chips will be everywhere, and the pile next to the woodshed will be towering before I know it. 

Wood chips are a form of organic gold, with all kinds of amazing uses. How can you be using wood chips in your garden and around the house? I'm glad you asked...

1. Mulch

It's old, but classic. Wood chips help accomplish two important goals for your plants: retaining water and staying warm. In addition, they suppress the growth of weeds, making it easier for you to maintain your garden beds over time. Spread a layer of wood chips atop the garden in spring to get it looking clean, sharp, and beautiful, and repeat in fall to protect your plants from freezing temperatures and snow. Be aware that you may need to add nitrogen fertilizer to supply the needs of your plants, and make sure to churn up or remove old mulch before remulching, so your plants aren't buried.

2. Composting material

Wood chips contain a great deal of carbon, and they're great for building up the soil. Just by using them as mulch, you'll be improving the condition of your soil, but you can also add them to your compost as a carbon or "brown" layer. They'll break down and enrich the dirt, making it that much more nutritious for the plants you spread it on.

3. Fuel

Like other wood products, wood chips can make great fuel, and they're especially useful for fire starter and small, controlled fires. They're also ideal for biomass reactors, which can be used to power engines in addition to providing heat.

4. Walkways

Another classic use of woodchips is as a walkway substrate. They'll even out the ground and provide weed suppression in the garden and lawn areas. Before you create a wood chip walkway, lay down a weed barrier to increase its lifetime. Be aware, though, that wheelchair users and other people with mobility impairments might have trouble navigating a walkway that's not carefully graded, and be sure to remove any large debris regularly so it won't trip people.

5. Decor

If you're working with dried or artificial flowers, try using wood chips in the vase to stabilize them and hold them upright. Wood chips are also used in the construction of furniture and works of art, where their variable color, shape, and pattern can create a great deal of visual interest. 

6. Play area surface

Wood chips help cushion falls and provide a safe, nonslip surface for kids and the young at heart. Create a designated play area in your yard with wood chips, swings, and other supplies -- but make sure you inspect it regularly and keep it in good condition to reduce the risk of injuries.

7. Erosion control

While wood chips are a temporary fix, they can address an area of the yard where erosion is occurring while you develop a long term plan. Use the chips to create a barrier to prevent soil loss, especially during heavy rains, while you talk to a landscaper about better drainage options to keep the yard in good condition.

Speaking of wood management, are you chopping yours with maximum efficiency?

Katie Marks writes for

Updated January 7, 2018.

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