Using Wood Chips From Tree Companies

Discussion in 'Survival and Sustainability' started by Adfundum, Nov 29, 2019.

  1. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    I've gotten three loads of wood chips recently from people doing tree trimming, and have been quite happy with them.

    I've heard a few negative things about using wood chips, but my experience is that they do incredible things to my soil. I'm in a fairly dry area of the NC Piedmont, with soil that's mostly clay. It drys out and hardens in the summer to a depth of about a foot. Where I've used the wood chips, I've seen a significant improvement in the soil (texture, moisture, worms, etc.) and the plants/shrubs growing in them.

    What I'm not sure about is the long term effects. Once it all breaks down, does the soil go back to being like brick or does it maintain some of the improvements? Did some research on academic studies and watched too many videos on youtube--no consistency of opinions. I've got more loads of chips on "order" but want to make sure I'm not wasting my time. Keep 'em coming or cancel the order?

    Anyone have long term experience with chips?
     
  2. Capt Nice

    Capt Nice Well-Known Member

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    I have no experience and my opinion is definitely uneducated. I'm guessing with time the older the wood chips the more deterioration that will occur and that rotted wood will gradually change the consistency of your clay to a better soil.
     
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  3. Right is the way

    Right is the way Well-Known Member

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    The woodchips should help build up organic matter in your soil. Much like no tilling here where I live.
     
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  4. Margot2

    Margot2 Banned

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  5. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    I appreciate the responses.
    That's how I started out. It definitely does change the consistency of the soil, but I don't know how long this will last. So far, I've used mine as surface mulch. I dug some up recently and was pleasantly surprised to find how dark, rich, and full of worms it was. That's what I'd call "way better soil".

    As with the above response, it definitely makes a difference. I've looked at research that shows the benefits of using woodchips as both mulch and as compost. The compost is way better, but composting a dump truck load of wood chips leaves only about 25% or the original load. In other words it doesn't go as far. I noticed that even if I put the chips down as a mulch (after a sitting for a while), they continue to break down into what we'd call compost.

    I have a neighbor who has some pasture and he uses no-till. I walked out onto the pasture a couple of weeks ago and was amazed at how soft the ground was compared to everything around it. That suggests to me that tilling woodchips in (as opposed to laying them on the surface) is not such a good idea.

    So...that leaves me with the question of how long to compost lasts in the soil. The research looks mostly at the immediate effects and doesn't look at five or ten years down the road. I've experimented with bark chips, softwood and hardwood mulch, cow manure compost, gypsum, and a few other products by burying small amounts in my back yard. 10-15 years on, I can't even tell where exactly I buried the stuff, but the overall soil in the lawn has improved. My point here is that the research I was reading back then claimed near miracles if I did this or did that. I did them. No miracles. But over time things seemed to improve. Now I have large loads of wood chips and am wondering if I'm just wasting my time.
     
  6. Blaster3

    Blaster3 Well-Known Member

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    you'll always need to amend it with more chips, it's a never ending process, however, once you've established a good base of 'soil', it'll take less chips each year to keep it going...
     
  7. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    Thanks. Assuming that the chips are rebuilding the soil, does that also assume that the improved soil will continue improving and going deeper now that the process has begun? I've looked for info on the long term (10-15 yrs) effect on the soil and there isn't much reliable info.

    As I said before, I experimented with different products by burying them and then planting grass on top. None had any noticeable effect. However, I did notice some difference in a place where I'd thrown down some bags of composted tree soil and planted shrubs. I also noticed that where I used the wood chips as mulch it has improved the soil under it.
     
  8. Blaster3

    Blaster3 Well-Known Member

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    adding organic matter always helps, the big issue for me was piling the chips to deep because the top layer near the surface always got moldy so i'd rake it off and toss it. the smaller the chips are, the better...

    in my veggie garden, i grind up leaves in the fall and turn in under and let it sit all winter, then in spring plant my seedlings. the soil is almost like peat moss from doing that for many years.
     
  9. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    I like the sound of your soil :)
    I started with some seriously poor soil. We bought the empty lot, had it cleared, and all that equipment running over it made the ground compacted. Much of the top soil got buried or covered over by the clay from all the other work. I struggled for several years to get grass growing on it. Even after it did start to grow, the dark layer of top soil is still only about two inches deep. Below that the dirt is hard as stone in the summer. Root growth is very shallow. That's what got me started on trying to rebuild the soil.

    Part of my plan was to use mulch around trees and shrubs until I could get some ground cover to establish and reduce or eliminate having to bring in huge amounts of the stuff. I'd need about two big dump truck load$ of mulch for a three inch cover of all the areas used as planting beds and around the trees. Buying those 2 and 3 cu. ft. bag$ at the garden center just isn't going to work.

    Research shows (mostly) that compost is good for the soil, but that research really doesn't go into what happens to the soil composition in the long term if no more is added. If I only do it once or twice, will those benefits disappear in time or will the soil and plants be self-sustaining? The studies I've read seem to focus on the use of compost made from sewage and the things that might accumulate in the soil as a result.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  10. politicalcenter

    politicalcenter Well-Known Member

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    I also had some wood chips delivered. It is great for the soil as long as you do not till it in. If you till it in it will take nitrogen from the soil to decompose. But if you spread it on the surface it will decompose at the surface and worms will move the organic matter down into the ground. Just push the stuff aside and set out your plants. The mulch will help conserve water and keep the soil temp even. It is very good stuff. Look up BTE gardening....if you can get past the religion.
     
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  11. Blaster3

    Blaster3 Well-Known Member

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    compacted clay/soil isn't conducive to drainage nor root growth, i would have tilled it first then began adding chips/ leaves (free organic materials), even plain sand. sand is by far the best for growing roots, most plants/grasses love it, just needs a lil fertilizer a couple times a year after it begins growing.
     
  12. politicalcenter

    politicalcenter Well-Known Member

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    I would fertilize with 20-0-0. Especially for corn. My best watermelon were from semi rotten hay put right on top of the ground with the seeds planted in 2X2 square patches on top of grass. The hay was about 1ft. thick. It was planted in my goat pasture.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  13. politicalcenter

    politicalcenter Well-Known Member

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    Our clay is red and thick but my garden soil is soft. No till at all. Mulch when planted... Goats when not.
     
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  14. politicalcenter

    politicalcenter Well-Known Member

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    According to 10000 Garden Questions answered by Experts organic matter becomes humus and last 5 to 100 years. But for every foot thick the mulch is you may get an inch of humus.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  15. Blaster3

    Blaster3 Well-Known Member

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    lawmakers/enviro's passed laws nitrogen 12 maximum, can't buy anything stronger or have it shipped in, it's a $1000 fine per occurrence, and each day after the fine is considered another occurrence if you didn't remove the soil that had excess nitrogen... ironite is banned altogether, phosphates are banned also... can't fertilizer after november 1st or before april 1st... ground water issues, so they say...

    max is 12-0-5, but most places only sell 12-0-0

    i use to buy straight nitrogen, potash & triple-super phosphate and mix my own fertilizer 46-60-60.... things grew crazy good back then, lol
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  16. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    Our local County Extension Officer suggested I not till because it destroys the soil structure and can worsen soil compaction below the depth of tillage. But...He did say that light tillage just to break the surface and allow the soil and mulch/compost to interact without creating a boundary layer might be good for the first application. He was all about "vertical tilling" where you drill a bunch of holes down 8-12" to allow soil to expand (decompact) when it gets wet. I did try to do that, but an acre and a half = a lot of holes. Of course I gave up on that and tried an aerator. It worked ok, but only to a depth of four inches. As far as sand, we have a high clay soil that's used for making bricks by adding a bit of sand to it. Pea gravel or something coarse might work. I actually started putting down some pea gravel around the planting holes, then making a mound of soil and compost on top of that to plant shrubs and flowers. I only did that so I could water the soil without it washing away and exposing the roots. Can't say it has any other benefit.
    Ah ha! You're not here in the US, are you? I don't know of any restrictions as far as fertilizers other than the plants themselves. I don't do much fertilizing anymore, but I did add a bunch to my wood chip pile a couple of days ago. Today, I noticed the steam and sweet smell of the wood. I'll also be adding coffee grounds and table scraps. I keep a five gal. bucket (with a lid) for scraps and I let them sit until things start to break down. It's candy for wood chips.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  17. Blaster3

    Blaster3 Well-Known Member

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    yes, new york specifically eastern long island... homeowners/individuals are restricted, commercial farmers are exempt.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  18. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    Yeah, that's not part of the US. :) So, you really have such laws restricting fertilizers? I didn't know.
     
  19. Blaster3

    Blaster3 Well-Known Member

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    yes, are they enforced, not so much... many people just put down the weaker fertilizer more often, some once a month.

    i myself, only use it once in late spring, minimal watering...
     
  20. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    I'm in NC, and we'd have to do the fertilizing at the end of winter. In this particular area, the rains usually slow or stop by May and the sun and heat dry the soil well below the roots of the grass. Definitely don't want to excite the grass with any fertilizer. That's one reason I put in a lot of shrubs and trees. Those roots can go deeper, but they still go dormant unless we get a soaking rain (which is rare in summer). Those things will struggle the first couple of years, so I started expanding the mulch beds to try and hold more moisture.

    BTW--Some of my neighbors moved here from Long Island and the Jersey Shore a few years back. There are actually quite a few in this area. They sell everything up there and come here for the cost of living.
     
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  21. jay runner

    jay runner Well-Known Member

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    I'd say it's like deadfall but in very small pieces for rapid assimilation. Better than nature but not miraculous.

    However, all the nutty advertisements condition us to expect new, improved, fast, overnight, miraculous.

    One thing's for sure -- when they dump 18 yards in the driveway we gonna work hard and build health.
     
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  22. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    You got that right. :)
    I'm probably being obsessive about this, but that dark organic topsoil I have is only a couple of inches deep except where the mulch has been used. Do you think it will revert back to that shallow topsoil if I stop adding the mulch every year?

    Do you get big 18 yd. loads delivered?
     
  23. jay runner

    jay runner Well-Known Member

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    imo it won't pass down through nearly as fast or as easily as granular or pellet fert, but very slow by comparison.

    I don't get big deliveries (or any) but have seen it nearly as high as garage doors leaving no place for owners to park but on the street.

    I got clay soil with a slow percolation rate and wild bahia grass so I don't remediate it, but have to mow every 5 or 6 days in the high heat, dog days. It shoots up to seed very fast and is drought resistant. The land was never seeded or sodded, the bahia took over naturally after the guy I bought from cleared the tall pines.

    The Jamaican way is to just let the weeds grow six feet high for several years. Then spray it all dead with glyphosate. Then cut it, bag or rake it out, and make your permanent plantings & lay down sod. The new roots will follow the old dead roots down deep as they rot and get a good foothold. That's what a Jamaican in a nice neighborhood told me, but his place looked like absolute hell for years. He said the neighbors just didn't understand but now all is well. He's an obstetrician.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2019
  24. Adfundum

    Adfundum Advisor Staff Member Donor

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    We get some of that Bahia grass here. There is also a fair amount of clover, wild bermuda grass, and lots of annual crabgrass. After spending a lot of money on fescue that requires constant reseeding, I decided to let the grass go wild. The problem is that stuff like the crabgrass can overtake the entire lawn in a couple of years. I tried to get rid of it, but it comes down to a much used phrase in this part of the world--"at least it's green." It loves the heat and grows fast, surviving off the dew when there is no rain. It has to be cut about every five days--more if it rains. The leaves hold that dew until late in the afternoon, so mowing can clog the mower and stall the engine. But it's green.

    Any bizarre notion of a mono-culture lawn grass takes a back seat to the reality of the local environment. So...like your "Jamaican Way," my lawn is on what I call "weed therapy" until my soil is healthy enough to support my grass fantasy. But at least I have my trees and shrubs!
     
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  25. BleedingHeadKen

    BleedingHeadKen Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    We've had a few layers of chips and mulch put down over the last year and a half. It's about a half acre that we are covering. The first set of chips were from oleander and it produces a smell that is strong. It's also dangerous as oleander oil is poisonous to humans and dogs. And, it absorbs water and becomes spongy in heavy rain. It was not our intention to have them lay down oleander - it was cuttings from road work and our gardener brought it over.

    The second time, we got a load of mostly pine. The pine needles do wonders for covering watery spots. The pine itself will mulch quickly, so you can leave it piled up for. The third round was more pine and some other materials which have held up well. The one thing we've encountered is a large number of slime molds. They were popping up all summer and they look pretty gross. They aren't a big deal, though.

    I think it will make the soil healthier, though we didn't really need to do much. Mainly it's to make the drive through less muddy in heavy rains. Because we are in a canyon, the ground doesn't dry out quickly during dry periods of winter.
     

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