Lining Bottom of Planter with Wood Chips

For some reason, one of my neighbors rakes up all his decorative wood chips every spring and replaces them. I don't know why he does it but he does. Every year he throws them in the trash but this year I agreed to take the old wood chips off his hands. I'm not sure exactly what kind of wood they are other than they're decorative.
I just built a 3'x10'x18"(high) planter that I need to fill. This is a lot of dirt. I hoped to line the bottom 3 to 6" of the planter with those used wood chips which I would get for free. I plan to layer about 2" of composted leaves on top of that and then the rest would be my dirt mixture (part sand, perlite with top soil).
Some discussions here in the past mention that wood depletes the soil of nitrogen. Does anyone think there would be a problem if the wood chips are deep into planter like this? Are there any weird chemicals on these chips that I should be concerned about? The first year for this planter will just have wildflowers whose roots don't go more than 12" but I hope to plant bigger things like a bush or two in there next fall for next spring.
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when they were free, I've used uncomposted woodchips to heighten the organic component of the topsoil. It's not as good as using compost (incoluding composted woodchips) but it's still pretty good. As the chips decay they do rob the soil of nitrogen & plants MIGHT require extra fertilizer until the woodchips have finished breaking down, but I've never worried much about it & not seen any nutritient deficiency in plants I've grown in soil that included woodchips. evergreen shrubs & azaleas need exceedingly little nitrogen, so wouldn't even notice the temporarily lowered amount. Wood chips INCREASE the percentage of beneficial fungus in the soil which makes all trees & shrubs do better, & even makes it possible to grow certain types of shrubs & flowers that do not thrive with only normal amounts of fungus in the soil (such as huckleberries or bunchberries).
i'd mix the chips into soil that needed a higher organic component & mix in a little nitrogen fertilizer which will hasten the break-down into organic compost, then plant in it expecting great results.
-paghat the ratgirl
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Wood in any form uses nitrogen in the decomposition process. The process involves bacteria that digest the wood. The bacteria also require air and water, so the process only takes place on the surface of the wood. For that reason, large chips will use less nitrogen than finely divided wood chips or sawdust. If your wood chips are from a chipper (which is mostly what I see being used as wood chip mulches), they will most likely not extract nitrogen from your soil at a rate that will harm your plants. Since you're placing 6" of chips in with 8-10" of soil mix and compost between them, you should have no problem unless your planter is filled with things that have a really large root system.
If you're talking about sawdust, on the other hand, I would put it into a compost pile and add vegetable scraps for a year or so (turning occasionally). That will make compost, which you can use anywhere.
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I applaude your desire to take advantage of a recycling opportunity, and a free one, to boot.
Indeed, decomposing wood chips will tie up nitrogen, making it unavailable to plants grown in the same soil. However, if you're just using them as fill at the bottom of the planters, I would think the "tie up" factor would be negligible at best, as the roots of your plants (annuals, I assume) will probably be well above the chip area. I would, however, skip the layer of leaves over the chips. I don't know why it would be desirable to add them, and their addition could hamper drainage.
Another way to make use of this freebie could be to use them in your garden paths or as a mulch on the surface of the soil in your beds. For the most part, it's the mixing them into the soil that causes the nitrogen availability problem.
If you're just looking for a simple planter bottom filler, I use styrofoam peanuts in mine except when they're closer to the street and more likely to "walk" in the night. Then I use whatever rocks, broken brick and other heavy stuff I have on hand :)
Hope this helps, and happy gardening!
Suzy in Wis., zone 5

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