It had been about a year since I’d replenished the wood chips throughout my yard and the mulch was wearing thin. I was having trouble finding a convenient source. I started to get anxious. Then a couple weeks ago my neighbor offered a pile that had been sitting in his yard. Then Chip Drop came through with three full truck loads of cleanly chipped oak on a single day. When it rains it pours. What a blessing!
Wood chips make the best mulch in a garden. I use them under my fruit trees as well as around vegetables. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to procure the stuff.
I’ll go through all of the sources for wood chips that I’ve used over the years and that may work for you; different ways of getting wood chips are suitable for different yards and personal situations. Lastly, I’ll talk about Chip Drop.
What are wood chips?
Let me say what I mean by “wood chips” before we go any further, as the term is not used the same everywhere. For me, wood chips are what you get when a tree trimmer puts branches through a chipper machine, a machine with powerful blades that chop the branches into bits. So, what comes out the other end, “wood chips,” are actually small pieces of everything on that branch: leaves, twigs, as well as the wood and bark of the branch.
Here’s a close up of the wood chips I just received, where you can see all of those constituents:
Five sources of wood chips for garden mulch
Once upon a time, I would go in the early morning hours and poach from piles of wood chips on the side of the road before I learned of legitimate ways to get some. What a funny phase of life that was. Here are five less sneaky, and often free, sources of wood chips that I’ve used since I became a responsible adult.
- Landfills and municipal disposal services
Tree trimmers and gardeners often take their plant waste to the landfill to dispose of it, and the landfill runs it through tub grinders and composts and screens the materials, and then offers it to local residents.
My local landfill is Miramar, in San Diego County, where San Diego City residents can get a cubic yard of wood-chip mulch for free and anyone else can get it for five dollars (totally worth the fee). Incidentally, what is listed as “wood chips” on their website is not what you want; you want what they simply refer to as “mulch.” See this link for Miramar’s mulch product.
Some other landfills in Southern California have similar offerings. Here are links to some: El Corazon in Oceanside, mulch and compost can be picked up at various sites in the city of Los Angeles, check here for free mulch in Riverside, in Ventura, and in Santa Barbara County.)
- Private landscape material suppliers
Tree trimmers and landscapers have to pay to dump their plant waste, so sometimes they dump at a closer private facility rather than the local landfill. These private operations often offer a similar wood-chip mulch as described above.
You usually have to pay for the wood-chip mulch although the fee is reasonable. Sometimes these companies will also deliver.
Sorry this is so San Diego County-centric, but that’s what I know firsthand in this arena. Do a web search for “compost facility near me” or “wood chip mulch near me” and you ought to find local options.
- Nurseries and home improvement centers
Most plant nurseries and home improvement centers like Home Depot or Lowes don’t have wood chips available, as far as I’ve seen. They usually just have bags of compost, composted manures, and bark products.
But some larger plant nurseries do sell a form of wood chips for mulch (usually composted and screened). Evergreen Nursery is an example of a place that has a wood-chip mulch available for sale. They call it “fine ground cover mulch.”
The advantages of all of the above sources of wood chips are that you can get a little or a lot; you can get as much as you need, no more and no less.
In contrast, the sources below are great if you want a lot — like, a pile the size of a car. I used to live in a place where I had a very small yard and wanted to get my mulch by filling small plastic tubs, but now I live in a place where I need large quantities and can accept a full truck load of the stuff. So these days I use the following sources.
- Tree trimmers
My ear is attuned to the sound of a chainsaw and wood chipper. When I hear them close by, I ask the guys if they’d like to drop their chips in my yard. I’ve received many loads this way.
For this to work, you need a fairly level and spacious area for the truck to back in and unload.
(Some tree trimming companies have their own yard where they drop some wood chips and will allow you to come by and take as much as you want. I did this once. Call local tree trimmers to ask.)
- Chip Drop
However, I had a long run of bad luck over the past year in getting chips dropped at my place, as I mentioned earlier, so I tried the Chip Drop service, again. Chip Drop connects gardeners like us who want arborist wood chips for mulch to tree trimmers who need to dispose of their chippings.
I had signed up for the service (which is free) a couple years ago but never got a load after months of hoping. So I took my name off their list. But I knew that Chip Drop was new to Southern California then and not yet used by many tree trimmers (or gardeners).
When I signed up again a couple weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a load only a couple days later. It felt like instant wood chips. To boot, the guys were working only two streets away and so they then returned to drop two more loads that very same day.
Chip Drop works for me now! It might work for you now, too. It all depends on whether tree trimmers in your area are signed up for it. You can see if that’s likely by looking at the map of recent drops near your address on the Chip Drop website here.
Chip Drop isn’t a good way to get a small amount of wood chips, as you can only sign up to receive a full truck load, but it’s the best way to get a lot of wood chips.
By the way, if you think a full truck load of wood chips seems like more than you can use, consider sharing with a neighbor and also know that they break down very fast. The pile starts to decompose and shrink the moment it is dropped in your yard. And if you put a layer a foot deep under a fruit tree, it will only be an inch or two thick within a year. In other words, you can probably use more than you think you can.
(Don’t forget the option of making your own wood chips. See my post, “Should you get a wood chipper?”)
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