To lay wood chips on a garden bed or path first clear the area of weeds using a hoe or gloved hands. Use a rake to flatten the soil and remove any large rocks. Spread the bark chips over the soil using a mulch shove or wheelbarrow and rake them 2-3 inches thick to prevent weeds.
Steps to laying wood chips in your yard
- Get bark mulch delivered by your local landscape supplier or purchase smaller bagged mulch from a hardware store.
- Choose an area of garden without mulch or an area that needs mulch topped up.
- Remove large weeds and rake your garden soil flat using a strong rake.
- Lay newspaper or cardboard on the soil to give your garden extra protection from weeds (optional).
- Fill your wheelbarrow with bark chips using a mulch shovel or bring bags of mulch as close to your garden bed as possible.
- Tip the bark mulch directly onto the garden bed avoiding any existing plants.
- Use a rake to flatten the bark mulch over the garden bed to 2-3 inches thick.
- Move bark mulch 1-2 inches back from plant stems to avoid rot.
- Water the bark mulch down to hold it in place using a sprayer nozzle on your hose.
These are the simple steps to mulching with bark chips. This natural mulch is one of my favourites and I use it in my garden under citrus trees, around annual flowers and Mediterranean herbs.
How to prepare the ground for wood chips
Rake the soil flat before laying wood chips. Clear any large weeds to prevent them from growing through after the bark chips have been laid. Make sure you remove any weeds with runners like couch grass as this will spread and grow under the mulch. Small weeds can be left and the wood chips will smother them and eventually kill them off.
Wood chips can then be moved onto the soil using a wheelbarrow. Try to avoid compacting the soil by keeping off the garden bed as you apply the mulch. Tip mulch in from the side of the garden bed.
For larger garden beds, it may be hard to avoid stepping on the bed itself. Try to step on mulched areas as this will help to absorb some of the impact and lessen the amount the soil will compact.
What to put under wood chips
Composted cow manure is a great to apply under the wood chips. A small amount of nitrogen will be taken up from the soil as the wood chips are broken down by soil microbes. Adding composted cow manure will replace this nitrogen for your plants.
The small amount of nitrogen taken up from the soil as the bark chips break down will be released back in after the microbes have digested it. Over time the soil microbes and worms will mix the organic matter from the wood chips into the soil to improve it and trap carbon.
Weed matting is often used under wood chips but this is not my recommendation. If wood chips are laid 2-3 inches thick this will keep away almost all weeds. Weed matting will break down over time and weeds could make their way through anyway. Save the cost and avoid weed matting altogether.
Where to use wood chips in the garden
Wood chips can be used in a variety of places in the garden, here are a few ideas.
- Around citrus trees
- Around annual flowers
- In open garden beds with perennial shrubs
- Under large trees
- On paths
- Between garden beds
- Between raised vegetable beds
- Around Mediterranean herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme
How to lay a wood chip path
To lay a simple wood chip path clear the area of weeds first using a hoe or gloved hands. Use a rake to flatten the area off and walk over it to compact the soil slightly. Lay the bark chips over the path and lay them flat.
Lay the bark chips around 2-3 inches thick to stop weeds. You will need to top up wood chips every 3-6 months depending on how fine the wood chips are. Large wood chips can last over 6 months depending on the weather and moisture level of your soil.
If you are using a mixed tree mulch this will contain both bark chips and smaller pieces from tree stems and leaves. This mulch is usually made from tree offcuts taken by arborists when they are trimming trees. The mix of brown and green material is a perfect cover for garden beds and will knit together well.
Bark mulch and mixed tree mulch are great for windy areas or slopes as they are heavy and won’t blow away or slide down the hill. Plant small shrubs in the area to further block the wind if that is a problem in your area.
How often to top up wood chips
Wood chips can be topped up in your garden anywhere from 3 months to up to 12 months. Bark chips will break down faster in damp, warm conditions so will need to be replaced more often.
Keep the wood chips at 2-3 inches thick to stop weeds. If they are laid thinner than this, weeds are likely to get enough light to grow.
Where to get wood chips for your garden
Wood chips can be bought from landscape suppliers in large amounts and either picked up by yourself using a trailer or delivered. You can also buy them in small bags from hardware stores or garden centers. You can even get bark chips for indoor plants on Amazon, check out this link.
How wood chips benefit your garden
There are lots of ways that wood chips will benefit your garden including keeping in soil moisture, improving the microbe and worm population and stopping weed growth.
1. Keep in moisture so you need to water less
Bark chips will cover the soil and stop evaporation. As the bark chips are watered by your hose or the rain they will temporarily absorb some of the water and release most of it back into the soil. If you add bark chips to your garden beds you will need to water less and your plants will be happier.
2. Increase soil microbes
Adding bark mulch will help you to grow a healthy soil microbe population which work to digest and break down organic matter to release nutrients into the soil. The microbes will love living in the moist environment created by the bark chips and will break down the organic matter releasing it into the soil.
3. Naturally attract worms
Worms will love living in the layers of soil underneath bark chips. Worms will feed on the soil microbes that are breaking down the bark chips and will dig through the moist upper layers of soil to allow oxygen and improve plant root growth.
Attracting worms naturally with wood chips is great for your garden as worms will digest organic matter and make the nutrients available for your plants to grow.
4. Stop weeds
Bark chips will help to stop weeds from growing in your garden making it easier for you to stay on top of them. Even if weeds do manage to grow through bark chips, they will be easier to pull out as the bark chips will lighten the soil and make the weeds easier to remove.
Save time weeding and avoid poisons by adding bark mulch instead. It is a low cost way to keep weeds down while making your garden look great.
How to lay wood chips – Summary
Wood chips should be laid over an area that has been cleared of weeds or has a good coverage of cardboard or newspaper. Make sure you lay the wood chips at least 2 inches thick to prevent weeds but still let rain flow through to the ground. Wood chips are great for your soil and a fantastic low cost mulch.