Mulch Vs. Wood Chips: The Differences You Must Know


Over the years, I used wood chips in my landscaping and gardening activities. However, I found out recently about mulches and realized that they differ from wood chips. I decided to research them, and here are the differences.

Wood chips are bulkier and bigger than mulch. Hence, they make for a cleaner cover and last longer than mulch. However, mulch retains water better. They also insulate plants roots better. And they provide better nutritional value. Generally, wood chips are more suitable for playgrounds, while mulch is best suited for gardens.

Mulch is somewhat of a general classification as there are different types of mulch which we will be talking about further on below.

Differences Between Mulch and Wood Chips

There’s an overlap in the application and use of mulch and wood chips to landscaping and gardening. Generally, they are both used for the protection and nourishment of plant species.

However, regardless of these overlaps, they are distinct. And these differences are visible from three perspectives.

Bark Mulch vs. Wood Chips

Now, we will be talking about the differences between bark mulch and wood chips.

How bark mulch and wood chips are Made

Bark mulch is created by chipping away the outer bark of coniferous plants. For instance, plants like fir or pine tree. They, generally, last as much as ten years.

On the other hand, wood chips get made from the shredded interior of tress. Typically, they last as much as five years.

While wood chips come from the interior part of trees, bark mulch comes from the exterior portion of trees.

Differences of feel between bark mulch and wood chips

Although they come from identical trees, the final results are also distinct.

Generally, bark mulch usually has a tougher and more elegant texture. On the other hand, wood chips are generally denser and softer. However, wood chips are traditionally chunkier in comparison to bark mulch.

How bark mulch and wood chips Are Used

Thanks to its texture, bark mulch is useful in areas where wood chips are likely to slip or slide out from their appropriate location. However, it’s not perfect for areas with a higher probability of getting flooded or recording heavy downpours.

Bark mulch also retains moisture more effectively in comparison to wood chips.

Differences in benefits of using bark mulch and woodchips

Bark mulch also prevents sunlight from getting to weed roots within the mulch, thus reducing weed growth. They effectively insulate plant roots, provide higher nutritional content than wood chips, and are generally best suited to garden areas.

On the other hand, wood chips are less susceptible to getting washed away or blown away.

Also, they are less likely to compact in comparison to bark mulches. Generally, they provide a better uniform ground cover. As such, they are best suited for trails and playgrounds -areas with high foot traffic.

Shredded Wood Mulch vs. Wood Chips

Now, we will be talking about the differences between shredded wood mulch and wood chips.

How shredded wood mulch and wood chips Are Made

Shredded wood mulches often emerge as byproducts of the paper and lumber industries. On the other hand, wood chips get made from the shredded interior of tress. Typically, they consist of different materials, such as barks and leaves.

While wood chips emerge from nature, shredded wood mulches are generally synthetic.

However, shredded wood mulch may also include organic substances.

Differences in feel between shredded wood mulch and wood chips

Thanks to their makeup, the shredded wood mulch, and wood chips are different in their texture.

First, wood chips usually contain bigger chunks in comparison to shredded wood mulch. For instance, while pieces of wood chips might be around 4 inches long and 3 inches wide, shredded wood mulch is usually about 2 inches and 1.5 inches, respectively.

Also, thanks to their size, wood chips absorb moisture better than shredded wood mulches. Similarly, wood chips take more time to decompose in comparison to shredded wood mulches.

How shredded wood mulch and wood chips Are Used

Below are the main uses of shredded wood mulches as well as woodchips.

  • Shredded wood mulches are available in different colors and mostly used as flower beds.
  • However,shredded wood mulch may contain some chemical compounds, especially in dyed wood. These can be harmful to plants and animals. They might also compact as time goes on when they break down.
  • Wood chips are excellent nutritional materials for the soil, thanks to their chemical diversity. They provide a variety of nutrients to the soil that makes them more suited to gardening.

All this talk about different types of mulch, but we haven’t really had a low down on what mulch really is. Read on to the next part to know what mulch is and just what can be mulched.

What is Mulch?

Mulch is generally any material that you can put on the soil and around your plants. They are usually organic, and as such, can perform various functions such as:

Reducing water evaporationPreventing and regulating soil compaction as well as maintaining soil moisture
Preventing the increase of weedsControlling soil temperature, especially during harsh weather conditions

Generally, they also increase the activities of microorganisms within the soil. They improve soil quality and provide a natural and uniform feel to garden and landscape environments.

There are various types of mulch, and they include pinewood chips, cedar, and cypress. And they can help you get rid of fleas, ticks, and gnats.

You can also make mulches out of various materials, including organic and inorganic substances.

Organic substances that can be made into mulchInorganic substances that can be made into mulch
grass clippingsrubber
straw and haycrushed gravel
pine bark and needlesplastic sheeting
leaves and leaf moldpebbles
compostinorganic pine needles
pecan shellswoven ground clothing

Just like all the materials stated above, wood chips are just another type of organic mulch.

Should I Use Mulch or Wood Chips?

As I already mentioned, there’s an overlap between the use and application of mulch and wood chips. As such, you can use both of them for your general landscaping and gardening activities.

However, it can be quite challenging to decide which of them to use for specific events or specific conditions. Here’s a guide.

Benefits for using woodchips for a specific activityBenefits for using mulch for a specific activity
Wood chips are an excellent option for shrubs, perennials, and treesAdvisable if you’re looking towards a balanced carbon to nitrogen percentage in your garden
Suitable for landscaping as it reduces the weed population, upgrades the landscape’s appearance, and maintains soil moistureMore suitable for garden areas and needs.
Useful as compost material due to the presence of carbon. It can be used for carbon topping.Advisable to be used for more robust plants or trees
Suitable to use for paths and sidewalks as they appear uniform.
If you want to control erosion, use wood chips to create a barrier to avoid soil loss.

Regardless, your choice should depend on the prevailing weather conditions in your area. Also, you might want to consider the sustainability of your choice.

Using Wood Chips as Mulch

Like I mentioned earlier, wood chips and mulch overlap in their application. As such, you can use wood chips as mulch. And this is mostly thanks to their makeup.

Wood chips consist of scrap wood or back pieces, and they work well with perennials, shrubs, trees, and little fruiting species.

Advantages to using woodchips as mulch

To utilize wood chips as mulch, you can apply between two and four inches of these chips to your plant’s base. Also, ensure the spread of the wood chips is wide. The width may, however, depend on the size of your plant.

Also, when you use them as mulch, they have significant effects. For instance, they help prevent damage in areas with intense rainfall.

They all improve the survival rate of small trees. Thanks to their composition, they also develop the organic content of the soil and develop soil nutrients.

Disadvantages of using woodchips as mulch

However, while it has excellent advantages, it still has some downside as distinct from traditional mulches. For instance, when you leave them outside for too long, they may start producing acids and various harsh compounds.

And this is because they suffer from the reduced circulation of oxygen or other anaerobic conditions. It might also emit dangerous vapors in warm weather, and this can destroy or kill your plants. So should you remove old mulch? That is something only you can decide, but this post will help you make that choice

FAQs

Conclusion on Mulch vs Woodchips and their differences

Hopefully, the comparisons of different mulch side types with woodchips will help you choose which species to use for your gardening and maybe even landscaping needs.

Should you want to look into more on the gardening side and usage of mulch, such as the usage of straw, compost, and other organic materials for specific garden needs, feel free to look into this article that I wrote on what is the best mulch for better understanding.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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