Wood chips are pieces of lumber that are harvested from millwork and other industries for use in landscaping. Buyers order wood chips and spread them for use as fertilizer and mulch on their plants. The layers of wood chips can eventually add nutrients to the soil, and provide a heat blanket that protects smaller plants in colder seasons. Wood chips can also have detrimental effects, so use them with caution.
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Certain types of wood chips, like pine chips, can raise the acidity of surrounding soil. Plants grow best within a certain pH range. Plants that are sensitive to acidic soil can be negatively affected if the pH level in the soil suddenly falls. By increasing the acidity of the surrounding soil, wood chips can weaken or kill certain types of plants.
Over time, wood chips can begin to decay or rot, especially in wet climates. While this is not directly damaging to plants, it can encourage termites and other pests to infest or explore the wood chips. These pests can cause damage to surrounding plants, but they can be even more dangerous if users spread wood chips out near a home's foundation. The pests can move easily from the chips to the wooden parts of the house and cause even more damage.
Wood chips do not work well in every type of soil. Clay soils, for instance, do not drain easily and keep water for a longer time than other types of soils. If wood chips cover a clay soil, the water has trouble both sinking down through the clay and evaporating up into the air. As a result, nearby trees can become waterlogged and oxygen starved. This weakens or kills them over time.
In dry climates, wood chips can increase the chance of a fire. Users should not operate grills or landscape torches anywhere near wood chips in case the sparks cause a fire. Even a small fire can spread easily through the wood chips and leap to a house or adjacent growing area.