Dig in 50% wood chips?

emgardenerOctober 31, 2012

Just dug up some soil in my wood-chip beds to see why they did so well this last summer.

(My best garden beds had wood chips dug into them.)

Interestingly, roots congregated in areas with lots of wood chips, hardly any roots in areas with no wood chips.

Posted more pictures at the url below.

It seems that the plant roots really liked clumps with half wood chips and half dirt!

Now I'm digging in many, many more chips than I had dared before.

What has been other people experience with digging in wood chips?

How much did you dig in, how deep, how did the plants grow in it?

Here is a link that might be useful: Wood chip soil pictures

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Thanks for showing these pics. Certainly makes it evident what the plants and worms prefer. What type of wood chips did you use?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 10:18AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

It looks like your soil is pretty heavy clay, in which wood chips would help create tiny air pockets. It is likely these air pockets are what attracted the roots, and those air pockets and tunnels created by worms munching on the chips, not the wood itself.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 10:52AM
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Is that a huge wood chunk underneath your hand? I don't think that chunk will decompose in less than five years time.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 11:46AM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

I tried this in one area. I'm still having trouble growing things in this bed after 4 years. It doesn't retain enough water.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 12:03PM
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You think worms are eating wood chips the same year you put them in the ground? Earthworms are not termites. They ingest tiny pieces of organic matter, tiny like the period at the end of this sentence. They don't tear pieces of wood from chips.

If your soil is so bad that you and your neighbors just can't grow vegetables at all, then you need to amend your soil with organic matter. Amending soil with wood chips takes years. You seem to be enthusiastic about this wood chip thing, so go for it. But wood chips are not the secret to gardening. There is no secret to gardening. We're not talking about curing cancer here. People have been growing fantastic gardens without wood chips, or any other special method for a long time. As long as you're enjoying yourself, that's all that matters. But when you post on a board like this, you're going to get responses that aren't all together positive.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 1:12PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Jonfrum, I thought your response was positive. You expressed an opinion and explained it. That's always helpful. Emgardener is looking for input, not trying to start a fan club for the burial of wood chips.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 2:00PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I think that there has been some misinterpretation of what Em thinks is going on. I got the impression that he was using that stump piece as a platform on which to show the root growth.

I also don't think that he believes that earthworms are chewing the chunks into splinters, but feeding on the particles as they decompose. And make no mistake, wood chips will decompose rapidly when incorporated into the soil.

The increase in root development is ALL about increased porosity. The roots themselves create channels in the soil, and so do the worms. It becomes a never ending cycle. The increased volume of roots is yet one more source of organic matter. Roots create a huge amount of biomass in the soil as they slough off and die. That he experienced an increase in worms is an expected result of an improved soil evvironment.

In my clay soil, wood chips disappear quickly. Even when I apply them as mulch, the worms work hard to move the chips (or leaves or clippings) from the surface into the soil. Have you ever seen videos of worms dragging stuff around?

To change this topic slightly, I would suggest that BARK fines make a much better, and longer lasting soil conditioner. Growers of containerized nursery plants use a bark based medium pretty exclusively. My own potting mix is mostly bark. It's all about the porosity.

The inner wood breaks down rapidly, soon recycling nutritional elements back into the soil where many organisms...micro and macro....benefit from them. Bark, because of what it is composed of, is very persistent. We can enjoy a much longer physical benefit from the bark. Wood ends up as worm food eventually.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 3:51PM
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Used oak and pine wood chips.

definitely agree the air pockets attracted roots. Also think the fungus/mycelia that formed all around the chips also attracted roots.

That redwood log is part of my retaining wall, hope it doesn't decay in 5 years :)

yes, excessive drainage would be the drawback to using too many chips depending on the soil. I did try growing some plants above pockets of 100% wood chips, they didn't do so well, the roots did not grow into them. I also tried a few years ago to grow in 100% city compost, just dumped a foot of it on the ground. Did very poorly the compost drained fast and dried out, while the clay underneath became soggy. Weeds would/will not even sprout in this "rich compost" area. 50% clay though seems to be enough to hold water.

your probably right about the worms. I observed many more worms than in the past, but this could be because the wood chip mulch was keeping the ground more moist than my previous redwood needle mulch did. Also the wood chip pile had a lot of wood "dust" in it that worms might have been eating.

I've learned a lot of useful info from these forums (even learned about wood chips here back in the spring). However some of what I learned has held me back. For instance this spring I was hesitant to even mulch with wood chips for fear of nitrogen robbing. I "tested" out chip mulch around 2 plants, when they didn't die and started to do slightly better, I decided I was had been foolishly fearful and mulched all the garden with chips.

Then I considered all the fear of putting chips directly in the soil and decided to test that also. Made 2 new beds dug in chips 16" deep (2 shovelfuls) added fertilizer and lo and behold these beds did wonderfully where I hadn't been able to grow anything successfully before.

This posting is to let people know that it doesn't take years to get good results when amending soil with wood chips, you can get great results the first season.
Obviously if you already have great soil adding chips probably isn't going to make any difference (and if drainage becomes too much, it might make it worse).

You need to add a fair amount of nitrogen fertilizer up front though. However I actually added less nitrogen fertilizer to my wood chip beds over the season, than I did to my "clay only" beds. The plants in the clay only beds still looked nitrogen deprived. I believe in clay-only the fertilizer mostly washed away. Whereas the wood chips were able to absorb and hold the fertilizer.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 3:54PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

Emgardener, I appreciate you taking the time to post. I also greatly appreciate seeing your experiments. It is nice to see someone trying to figure things out with spending a lot of money. I will begin testing some wood-chips in my garden this year too because it is the cheapest amendment I can get (free from the transfer station if I shovel it myself, $5 if they use the loader).

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 4:03PM
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You said the magic word emgardner, You added fertilizer.

The question is how much?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 6:26PM
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I began an experiment with wood chips this year as well. In an area of a field that received grass clippings, I spread a very thin layer of wood chips (received in the winter) with the spreader. These were worked into the top six inches of soil along with the clippings. I left a fairly large area as clippings only as a control and will see how the wheat grows in this area next year.


    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 7:11PM
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I use a lot of wood chips, mostly as mulch and for lining paths, but some of this ultimately gets incorporated into the soil as I reconfigure beds, etc. I've used 90-100 yd3 over maybe 12,000 ft2 in the last 2 years.

The place I get them double grinds the chips - they take the stuff that comes out of arborist chippers and put it through a second chipper/grinder. The resulting material is much smaller and lighter than standard chips - you need a pitchfork rather than a shovel to move it - and it decomposes faster.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 1:19AM
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Lloyd, would be interested in hearing how your wheat turns out. Assuming you added no extra fertilizer.

I fertilize with just HLF (human liquid fertlizer, the yellow stuff). The wood chip test beds were ~20sq ft and ~10sq ft. I did 2 major fertilizer pours about 1 month apart. For the 10sq ft bed (3 vining cucumber plants), I added about 2 cups HLF each time, diluted 50:50 with water.
About 5 cups each time for the 20 sq ft bed.

With this type of bed and fertilization, you can't really rely on soil tests and static recommendations. There are just too many variables which continue to change rapidly.

Just good observation and reaction is needed. I'll start out pouring a few cups into a bed and waiting at least a week to see how the plants respond. If they haven't greened up enough, I'll add more. Any time the leaves look like they are yellowing, I'll add some.

One caveat, I've observed, is the leaves will not green up if the temperature is below ~75F, for the summer vegetables, no matter how much fertilizer is added. But once the temperatures rise, leaves green up fast if fertilizer has been added.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 6:57PM
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hi emgardener , I've been reading your previous posts and I find your wood chunks burying habit is really cool. And you got some kind of stumppot thing which is just great and I have no doubt that you really tested thoroughly all the things you said you did. And then you also bury wood chunks in a sort of trench in your garden plot which is amazing too. Thanks for all your experiments , I really learn much from them .

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 12:03AM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Wood chips are interesting - Last year, the power company trimmed by our house, and we bummed the trimmings off of them. We had a pile of chips about 6 feet high by 15 feet around. I used the wood chips the first year with poor results - They didn't rot down very well, packed together, and smothered the roots of some woodland wildflowers I planted.

After sitting for a year, the chips heated up in the middle of the pile, and started to compost - These chips, after moving the pile and turning them, made a nice mulch and didn't compact like they did last year. Just some curious observations!

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 7:09PM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

Gardening is just a big experiment, this is why it is fun. I love hearing what other people are trying.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 8:52PM
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Chris_MI(z5 MI)

I read a thread here a few days ago with a link, where a guy made an experiement with different kinds of soil & admendments. The soil with the largest seedling had sliced corn cobs in it. Seems like the same situation as the wood chips. My source of wood chips are now $18 a yard-but they do load it into your trailer.
Hmm, my son needs a christmas idea from me--this is perfect, and my son will deliver and unshovel it where I want it.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 7:09AM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

It's when you don't adhere to the rules and start experimenting and coming up with harebrained ideas it really gets interesting ; )

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 8:03PM
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billums_ms_7b(Delta MS 8A)

A landscape architect I knew specified 50% wood chips and bark in raised beds and berms he has installed.

It seemed an odd choice to me at the time, but now that I have more experience seeing the organic material I put out fade away quickly in the heat, the more this seems like thinking longer term.

For people in cooler climes, I'm sure this wouldn't be as big an issue.

I've put out an entire foot of partially composted finely ground agricultural waste in a raised annual bed, only to see it all gone a couple of years later.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 11:17PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

"Thumbs up" to Jimbo's comment!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 9:15AM
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Jimbobfeeny, wonder which 'hairbrained' idea you are referring to? Using wood chips as an amendment is not a 'hairbrained' idea and has been used by many successfully.

I think what often is not mentioned is that there are many types of wood chips and they don't all have the same results. Freshly chipped moist live wood from small brush and small trees (ramial chipped wood) acts very differently than chipped old dry wood without the bark from large trees. The former would compost fairly quickly on it's own as it has both carbon and nitrogen, the latter is mostly carbon so would need extra nitrogen to decompose.

Here's a quote from the following link: "In the North-American species, essential plant nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, Mg) increase when branch diameter decreases. These concentrations reach a minimum in branches over 7 cm in diameter, so branches having less than 7 cm in diameter contain 75% fertilizing nutrients."

Here's an article which may enlighten.

Here is a link that might be useful: Regenerating Soils with Ramial Twig Wood

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 10:54AM
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In Minn. wood chips sit in the ground for a looong time, the only way to shorten is to continually work the ground they are in and fertilize heavily to break them up.

I buried some mushy pieces of an old Elm tree eighteen inches down under a new rose garden.
Years later, some of the roses seemed to be going belly-up for no reason or just plain lack-luster compared to those nearby so I replaced the ground under them down three shovel depths.
In the dirt were the chunks of Elm I had buried five years earlier.

Up here wood chips are not the best idea although green wood from chopped branches act totally different from chipped wood.
The only exception may be Eucalyptus but that is hard to find and expensive.
Mine decomposed at rate far, far quicker than I had expected, sitting on the surface.
One reason may be that once it is wet, unlike most wood it will not float or float away

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 2:11PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Sorry, I wasn't referring to any idea at all - Just harebrained ideas in general. (subject to opinion - Many ideas may be called "harebrained" and actually work quite well.)

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 3:02PM
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