We had two large dead trees cut down and a lot of trees trimmed last
week and then ground down into wood chips. Our intention was to
gradually spread the chips around our large garden areas. The tree
cutters left the huge pile of wood chips in an area at the base of three
trees. Yesterday our neighbors, who are really into gardening, informed
us that we had to move the chip pile away from the base of the three
trees quickly, that they would die from suffocation otherwise. Is this
true? If so, how long do we have to move them? Also must we be careful
not to spread the chips too close to our garden plants? Thanks for any
Yesterday our neighbors, who are really into gardening, informed
It is true that you must move the chips. Most trees can be damaged if
the original soil level at the base is not maintained. It would not
be necessary to remove every single chip. Just remove enough so that
the original soil level at the base of the tree is exposed. A small
amount, less than an inch, can remain but my no means should they be
piled against the base of the tree. I do not know exactly how long it
would take to damage the tree, probably some time. Why not at least
move them away from the base of the tree right away? that is what I
Also must we be careful
It is not a good idea to mix fresh wood chips into your garden soil.
Wood chips require a nitrogen source to aid in their decomposition. In
order to decompose the chips will rob the surrounding soil (and garden)
of nitrogen. Chips are very nice in your garden paths where you walk
and will decompose nicely there and can be gradually mixed in to your
garden as they decompose. You can hasten the decomp of the chips by
making a compost pile with them. Mix with grass clippings or another
high nitrogen source (manure). they will turn into valuable compost in
a year or two and can be added to your yard or garden at will.
A thin layer would be OK, but as they noted you don't want to have so
much that the effectually change the ground level or constitute enough
matter that they will reduce the available nitrogen in the soil for the
tree. I suggest you may want to allow them to compost for a year or two
while you mix in a lot of nitrogen rich material like fresh cut grass or
some grass type high nitrogen fertilizer in. You can sheet compost if you
have the area.
It is true that the tree root area should not be covered or buried in
such a way to prevent air from getting to the surface area. It is
bad to pile anything next to the trunk of a tree as this can promote
disease. How long a tree can stand abuse depends on the condition of
the tree, the kind of tree, the tree's age, the area of the pile, etc.
A layer of mulch is beneficial to trees, although not more than a 4"
layer. Keep in mind that wood chips, as they decay (compost), will
quickly deplete the area of nitrogen. You can make an excellent
compost pile by mixing the chips with an equal amount of grass
clippings--your compost will be ready to use in 2-3 months. The
decaying wood chips will use the nitrogen from the green grass
Up to 90% of tree roots are near the surface, If you covered maybe half
the trees root zone or canopy width maybe 12" thick it could kill it,
but a pile of chips? If its maybe 10% of root zone that you are moving
soon and not at the base don`t worry. I think compressing roots also
kills them, doing it at the base could kill the area that spreads out.
Thanks for all the advice. So it sounds like I should move the pile of
wood chips off the base of the trees. I already spread a layer of chips
in some of my flower beds making sure to leave a little breathing space
around each plant. Is it ok to leave it there or will the chips harm
the plants (i.e. must I remove the chip layer)?
(Oops, hit the wrong button)
A thin layer of chips are ok and will act as mulch. However, after a
few months I would sprinkle them with some slow acting fertilizer to
replace any loss due to decomposition.
I don't believe you ever mentioned what kind of
wood (trees) the chips are. Some woods have
substances that can inhibit the growth of other
plants but that is generally not of much concern.
You should be aware that chips lying on top of the
ground will have no effect on the fertility
(nitrogen level) of the soil. It is only when the
chips are mixed with the soil or sink into the
soil over time that nitrates/nitrites will be
A thin layer (1" or so) of chips from most native
North American trees will have not adverse effect
on your plants. After a year or so, you should
add nitrogen fertilizer to help the soil as the
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