Home Gardening Wood Chips vs. Mulch

Wood Chips vs. Mulch – GIY Plants

Wood chips vs mulch. Two piles, one of natural wood chips the other red mulch.

When landscaping your garden, the choices are aplenty. Two popular options, wood chips and mulch can add aesthetic appeal and offer functional benefits. However, knowing the difference between the two can be quite a problem. We are here to help clarify that for you.

Wood Chips vs. Mulch: Understanding the Basics

Firstly, let’s understand what these two garden additions are. Wood chips are typically chipped or shredded pieces of wood. They are usually a byproduct of tree pruning and trimming activities.

Conversely, mulch refers to any material spread over the soil surface to protect or improve the covered area. It can be organic (like bark mulch or shredded wood) or inorganic (like pebbles or rubber).

The Manufacturing Process

How these two are made adds to their distinctiveness. Wood chips are made by chipping or grinding branches, while bark mulch is made from the bark of trees, often pine or cedar. Inorganic mulch, however, is made from non-organic material and doesn’t add any nutrients to the soil.

Bark Mulch vs. Wood Chips

Bark mulch around tree in the yard.

Consider their applications when choosing whether to use wood chip mulch or bark mulch. Both serve similar purposes: they prevent weed growth, help retain soil moisture, and can improve soil health over time.

However, wood chips are excellent for creating pathways and around trees and shrubs due to their chunky texture and durability. Mulch, especially the shredded type, is typically used in garden beds where plants require high nutrient content.

Benefits of Mulch vs. Wood Chips

Mulch vs wood chips. Spreading dark mulch around flower bed.

There are several benefits for your garden with both options. Organic mulches like bark and wood chips add nutrients to the soil as they decompose. They also help prevent weed seeds from sprouting, keep the soil cool, and retain moisture. But while fresh wood chips might draw nitrogen from your soil during decomposition, a layer of mulch provides immediate nutrients.

Choosing the Best Mulch for Your Garden

Choosing the best mulch can depend on various factors. If you live in an area with high winds, wood chips, being heavier, are more suitable. In contrast, shredded mulch, less likely to wash away, is better for slopes.

Remember to consider the aesthetic appeal too. While wood chips provide a more rustic look, mulch comes in different colors and offers a more polished appearance.

Considerations When Using Wood Chips and Mulch

Close up of a pile of wood chips for landscaping.

One primary consideration when using wood chips or mulch is the potential for disease and pest introduction. Sourcing these products from reputable providers is advisable to reduce this risk. Inorganic mulches don’t carry this risk but don’t enrich the soil.

The Environmental Impact

If you’re environmentally conscious, you might favor wood chips. They are usually sourced from local tree waste and have a lower carbon footprint than mulches, which are often made from recycled wood products and shipped from afar.


Whether you choose wood chips or mulch, both can enhance your garden’s health and appearance. Each offers unique benefits and minor drawbacks, so choose according to your garden’s needs and preferences. You can improve your garden’s vitality and visual appeal with either choice.

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