Shut Up and Dig, Watch Someone Else Do It

The Search for Arborist Wood Chips

Arborist wood chips, from One Yard Revolution video

Arborist wood chips are in the gardening ether these days, with Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott herself (of Garden Professor and myth-busting fame) leading the charge to promote them above all over types of mulch. (Details in this brochure.) Just recently she’s debunked myths about them on a Joe Gardener podcast.

There’s been much discussion of arborist wood chips on the Garden Professors Facebook group over its lifetime, with more converts singing its praises. One member of the group is the terrific gardening YouTuber Patrick Dolan, whose channel One Yard Revolution: Frugal & Sustainable Organic Gardening has over 116,000 subscribers, which is a lot for gardening.

Dolan recently posted this video citing the many virtues of the stuff, and crediting Chalker-Scott as his source. They’re summarized in the description below the video:

7 reasons why arborist wood chips are the best wood chip mulch for your vegetable garden: they support a broad diversity of soil life and promote healthier plants; their diversity in materials and particle sizes results in less compaction compared to uniform mulches; they are large enough to remain on the soil surface; they don’t tie up nitrogen in the root zone; they break down slowly; they are local and sustainable; they are the least expensive option.

And here’s some great news – he found a website for locating arborist wood chips either free or cheap! It’s 

Perusing the comments on the video, I found plenty of advocates, including one who wrote, “Wood chips changed my life.”

One commenter suggests yet another benefit – that wood chips they absorb water, while bark mulch repels water.

Asked where Dolan uses arborist wood chips in his vegetable garden, we learn that he mulches “pathways, perennials, and large annuals with wood chips. We don’t use them on beds of intensively planted closely spaced annuals.”

One commenter asked if the guitar introduction on the One Yard Revolution channel is by Dolan himself. Yep, that him.

For this viewer, it took seeing arborist wood chips in the video to understand what the hell they are – bits of leaves, branches, twigs, bark and trunk from a variety of tree species, in a variety of sizes.

And it turns out that I may have been getting arborist wood chips in my latest mulch run to my city’s tree-and yard-waste dump site. Here’s a shot of my latest haul, looking pretty close to the ideal. Most times of the year, however, the pile this came from is just leafmold mulch – chopped-up and partially decomposed leaves – or even worse, leaves that are fully decomposed into compost.

For a somewhat dressier look, I’ve been pitch-forking carloads from a pile of wood chips provided by my housing co-op. I’m afraid they don’t qualify as arborist-type, though – too uniform, and I see no signs of bark or leaves among the chips.

So how can local governments (or co-ops) recycling tree and yard waste create the super-special mix we’re coming to know as arborist wood chips? Anyone know? (I’ll also ask the plant geeks in the Garden Professors group.)

Posted by on March 2, 2018 at 7:25 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig, Watch Someone Else Do It.

6 responses to “The Search for Arborist Wood Chips”

  1. Ali says:

    Interesting! We’ve just bought a shredder, and it looks pretty mixed up! Am using it mulch my rugosa rose hedge to start with, but next year it might go on the flower borders too. Have to beware of pyracantha thorns though!

  2. Kate in Vermont says:

    When we see the tree guys from the power company working in our neighborhood, we let them know where they can dump the chippings.

    • Susan says:

      Yes, asking the tree company guys to drop a load of chips at your site is a great idea. We have done that also.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Yay, I’ve been doing it right for 15 years! 🙂 When I first bought my house and started my garden I couldn’t afford anything but free wood chips from our city, so that was my go to for mulch on all my perennial beds and what I made all of my paths out of. I still love it for paths but had started using purchased cedar mulch on my beds–may have to rethink that now.

  4. Theo says:

    We just had a full truck of wood chips dropped last week, and the gentleman who drove the arborist truck told us that they either drop off at residences or at a designated city drop-off where the chips get soaked in a solution (for color) and then sieved (to get rid of the larger branches) to become commercial mulch. Our load contained several larger branches (a foot or so) mixed in with the rest. It was free minus the couple of Advil needed later after spreading what appeared to be 12 cubic yards of wood chips.

  5. Brian Lawless says:

    Just a word of caution, to avoid chips or other parts of walnut or butternut. They are allelopathic and are harmful to numerous plants.

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