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Can You Use Fresh Wood Chips as Mulch?

If you want your landscape to be adored by all and a welcome sight to see each day you arrive home, it requires work. While some prefer to outsource this service to a company such as Mr. Tree, others have green thumbs and want to get the tasks done themselves. There’s no right or wrong way to go, but it’s important to do some research before getting started.

Whether you want a garden with seasonal flowers that are in bloom throughout the spring and summer, or evergreen plants and trees that provide lovely shades of green all year, a learned hand is paramount to success. Each plant, flower, or even vegetable requires a delicate pH balance and has particular sun and water needs.

One very specific request we get from DIYers involves mulch. Many often ask: can you use fresh wood chips as mulch? It’s important to not just know but understand the reason for the answer in order to properly care for your greenery, so let’s dig into it a bit.

So, can you use fresh wood chips as mulch?

In most cases, the answer is going to be no. This is because fresh wood chips, more so than aged ones, will pull a considerable amount of nitrogen from the soil, an imperative gas for proper plant growth. This is even more important if you know your tree or garden prefers nitrogen-rich soil.

If, however, you’ve already added the fresh mulch around your trees, look for signs of nitrogen deficiency, which can include yellowing and dropping leaves.

Can You Use Fresh Wood Chips as MulchIf you shouldn’t use fresh mulch, what should you use?

Mulch is often made out of a combination of leaves and wood, organic materials that will slowly break down and add to the richness of the soil and lead to improved plant growth. If you have fallen leaves, rake them into a pile and then shred them using your lawnmower. Then mix this with older wood chips made from cut-down trees or branches from oak, hickory, ash, or maple, for example. You’ve just made DIY mulch.

What are the rules for application?

You will want to spread your homemade mulch around your trees, but not touching the trunk. Don’t build mulch volcanoes. Instead, leave at least a few bare inches around the base of the tree or plant. If you don’t, this can lead to rot and disease. For this reason, it’s an absolute must-follow rule for the health of your trees. Instead, leave space and then pile the mulch four to six inches high around trees and three inches thick around beds. Then sit back and admire your work.

Note that application is ongoing, as the mulch will break down, so check on it every once in a while to see if more needs to be added. Also, monitor the health of your tree or plant to ensure it’s reacting positively to the new change.

Are there other mulching don’ts?

Yes, a few. First, do not over-mulch. Like nitrogen depletion, too much mulch can lead to too much nitrogen, which will also exhibit as yellowing leaves on trees.

Also, don’t add it within 30 feet of your home or car, as wood mulch can breed fungus that will leave stains on your valuable assets, as well as draw in termites if used directly next to your house.

And, since it’s a fungal incubator, you should also not use it near disease-prone plants like tomatoes, roses, and lilacs.

What are other applications for mulch?

Since wood mulch is so great at killing weeds, it’s ideal for walking paths, to be used along stepping stones, as dividers between grass and trees since grass can inhibit tree growth, and anywhere you have empty soil-filled land where you want to create a more aesthetically pleasing area. Wood mulch can also be used in play areas and for erosion control.

Can I use mulch made from a tree with disease?

The science points to yes. Mulch is a decomposer and is full of fungus but doesn’t contain pathogens from the diseased tree that would pass to the healthy tree. Additionally, while it will mix with the soil to feed the tree, it won’t be directly touching the tree. Only this could lead to disease.

Are wood chips a fire hazard?

No. In fact, wood chips are the least flammable organic mulches you could use. If it is kept moist, it’s unlikely to combust. Water the mulch like you would the tree or plant it’s surrounding, and the odds of fire are slim.
Should I add a layer of compost first?

This step isn’t usually necessary but could be beneficial, especially if you’re unsure of the soil quality. This will ensure that the tree or plant will be fed with nutrient-rich soil.
Occasionally, this step is also recommended. This would be the case if the soil is known to be nutrient-deficient.

How old do my wood chips have to be before they make good mulch?

Waiting at least one year is often the recommended course of action. Again, fresh mulch may be just fine, but you want to ensure your plants have the best chance to thrive. Waiting some time will provide you with a better likelihood of success.

Making and applying wood mulch is an easy process that many DIYers could tackle with ease. The trick is knowing what to look for once the mulch is applied to ensure that your plants are continuing to receive the proper nutrients.

If you’re unsure about your mulching skills or want a professional to check over your landscape to confirm that it’s thriving, reach out to our team of arborists at Mr. Tree. We’d be delighted to identify and educate you on the best ways you can keep your landscape looking picturesque all season long. We also carry mulching supplies if your homemade mulch isn’t ready yet.