Fresh wood chips as mulch?

thisisme(az9b)April 13, 2011

I local tree trimmer is going to deliver four yards of branches and leaves for free that have just gone through the chipper. I was planning on mulching my fruit trees and vegetable garden with it. They know not to include any walnut or palm trees or any diseased trees. They send all that stuff to the dump. My plan is to mulch everything and then get a couple more loads and compost it and use it to amend my garden beds with it next year.

Can I use this right away or do I have to compost it first?

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I use the fresh wood shavings from the feed store all the time when I clean out my horse trailer. Typically, it's not very dirty so very little manure and urine, lots and lots of pine shavings. I also use the citrus and palm clippings whenever my husband gets around to turning on the chipper. (for some reason I'm not allowed to touch the chipper or chain saw, something about losing limbs?)
It's great for adding organic matter to our soil and I haven't seen any problems. Not like we're going to get to acidic! I'm using a lot of pine needles this spring too, wish the darn things weren't so sharp, they always stick my fingers when I'm planting, otherwise I'd use them a lot more since I have a bunch of huge pines.
How's your tomatoes and beans? I think my tomatoes have CMV.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 10:43PM
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Sure. For me, in my acid soil, I have to amend the wood chips with wood ash, but I use them and they save me a lot of water. For you, in alkaline AZ, they are going to be just fine. They compost in about a year, if well mixed with green materials. They last as mulch 2 years, so you can see why I like them. Why do you not get any palms?

They will provide significant amounts of micro-nutrients, with multi-year release. They will be strongly deficient only in N for your veggies, but they alone provide adequate fertilization for established trees. In AZ, some of these things may change, you may lose a lot more N from them than we do (I have no experience about composting in hot places).

Early on they may be hot, although all of my wood chip piles needed also to be big to generate heat. I have never seen hot mulch from chips. Touch it, and leave some room for the plants if it feels warm.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 10:47PM
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Dan Staley

Composting would make them not wood chips. Then you'd have no wood chips to work with.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 11:03PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

This really is a question for the Soil & Mulch forum and you will find more info there. YOu can also find several previous discussions about using them if interested by searching 'wood chip mulch'.

But in general, mulching fruit trees is no problem as long as you keep them back from direct contact with the trunk itself.

But they are not generally recommended for use in a vegetable garden for a number of reasons.

1) fresh, they are too hot and can burn stems just like tree trunks as they decompose, especially if the mix contains both greens and browns (carbons and nitrogens)

2) as they mix in with the soil they bind up nitrogen needed by the plants,

3) unlike other organic mulches they attract pests not normally wanted in the vegetable garden such as slugs

4) they are primarily a decorative mulch not nearly as effective at weed supression as other mulches are, and

5) unlike other organic mulches the benefits to the plants themselves is minimal and the benefits to the soil is a long time in coming,

6) just a personal observation - they jam up the tiller.

For best results, composting them in an actively worked pile for 6-8 months prior to using them makes them a great mulch. Fresh, not so much as the problems they create outweigh the benefits.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 11:15PM
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Thank you everyone for posting.

tracydr thank you for asking; most of my tomatoes are 3-4' tall with the exceptions of a couple plants I purchased. The bush beans are about half sprouted. I'm not to worried though because a few more pop up every day. The pole beans on the other hand are doing much better. I soaked the pole beans for 24hrs before planting. I did not soak the bush beans at all. I planted the pole beans more than a week after planting the bush beans and they have all germinated. For now on I will soak all of my beans before planting.

glib Thank you for posting. I know we don't always agree but I do respect your opinion and breadth of knowledge and your post was very helpful in my decision making process.

Dave I did a search in the Soil, Compost & Mulch forum before starting this thread. Most of what I read was about composting wood chips rather than using them fresh as mulch though I do plan on doing both. You are one of my favorite posters though like glib I don't always agree with you I often find your posts informative and helpful. If you knew my whole situation I think you would have given a different response.

I do not till. I use a 38lb Bosch chipping gun with a spade/clay bit and double dig my beds to 18". The norm for us is to have 100+ degrees temps every day four months a year or longer. The primary need for this mulch is to keep the soil cool. Without it nothing will survive our summer heat. I'm on a fixed income and cannot afford to buy composted mulch. This is the first year I will be composting my own. I have a drip irrigation system that allows me to add fertilizer/Nitrogen to the water. The drip lines will be under the mulch so most of the mulch will not be getting wet. Our yard is professionally sprayed for anything that creeps or crawls every two months or sooner if needed. I am not an organic gardener and will be spraying my plants with Triazicide and Daconil as needed. In eleven years living in Arizona I have not seen a single slug. We had snails for three days after our lawn was installed eight plus years ago. We have not seen one since and the pest control guy who sprays our yard said he has never seen either a slug or snail in Arizona. On your advice I will keep the mulch from making contact with the plant stems as best I can and hope for the best. Thank you for posting.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 1:04AM
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I was wondering the same thing...I recently had 10 yds of chipped sour-orange tree/pine trimmings dumped on my property. I'm planning on composting most of it over time but wanted to use some of it as mulch. I'm in the same boat as you "thisisme" as far as irrigation goes. My drip will be under the mulch and with the tiny amount of rain we get I wasn't worried about the woodchips etc breaking down...maybe someone in a similar climate has had a different experience? My primary concern is water retention and cool soil. The mix has lots of green leaves in it as well which I was planning on drying out a bit before applying.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 10:49PM
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I think for AZ wood chips are fine, due to a combination of soil alkalinity and the fact, well, they come in 10 cu yds loads and in AZ you need lots. I once got a 30 cu yds load. I think only leaves (large, matted leaves such as maple) might save more water, but I am fairly sure wood chips are better, water-wise, than compost or straw. And they last. My beans, amongst other veggies, get only wood chips and some wood ash as fertilizer. Plus, you both have the N delivered via drip under the chips. Things fit differently in different locales. You surely would not profit from bio-char in AZ, for example. Anyone willing to explain why palm chips are no good?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 11:15PM
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Mine are a mix of pine, palm and citrus not sure why palm wouldn't be good but they are harder to chip.
The only time I've had heat is when I amended whith too much alfalfa meal in the summer and my husband flooded the garden. Killed our peppers. Must have been 150 in that mulch mound!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 12:45AM
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I love your garden kingkongos. The only thing I would add is some fruit and nut trees.

glib at the Valley Permaculture Alliance they said palm chips take a lot longer to compost and did not recommend using them. Supposedly if you mix them with other wood chips they will compost at different rates and you will still have palm chips in the mix when everything else is ready to use.

tracydr since you mentioned alfalfa. I was planning on picking up some alfalfa pellets to use as either a top dressing or to make compost tea with. One of the local feed stores sells 80lb bags for $ 12.50. Is this something I should stay away from till the fall season or can it still be used in moderation?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 1:12AM
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I actually don't have fertigation in place right now...I find doing it organically on my large garden is very expensive...especially as I stick to non-animal I use a fertilizer called Grow More Vegetarian 5-2-2 which is primarily alfalfa meal - excellent excellent stuff. I wish I could make my own but organic alfalfa is impossible to find locally. Anyway, I've never had problems with over heating when using alfalfa meal in moderation.

Thanks thisisme! We actually have 6 citrus trees and a pomegranate tree on the other side of the property..oh and a huge white mulberry tree which we occasionally get fruit from (when the birds don't get em all). I definitely want to add more though!!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 2:33AM
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