Untreated wood chips layered in abundance make plants happy.
Mara Grey in The Lazy Gardener (a particularly nice and guilt-free gardening book) recommends, among other things, an abundance of mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. It keeps down weeds, helps balance out moisture, and provides more of a natural compost-in-place of wood chips. Especially for perennial shrubs, this mimics nature.
In my neck of the woods, we have identified the 3 easiest sources of free mulch. The list is ongoing…
- Local power company. I did not expect this one, but in a region with plentiful trees, the power company is responsible to remove trees or cut branches to address or prevent interference with the power lines. On their own timeframe, they will dump a truckload of mulch on your property free for the asking.
- Your own trees. This seems like it would be the most ideal since you are returning the organic material whence it came, more or less.
- Local arborist. They often have piles of cut wood and wood chips. These might just be burned to make space for more… But are also often free for the asking. You just have to go and get them. If you have a use for firewood as well as mulch, this option in particular is a win-win. The best firewood is hardwood that has been drying for 1-2 years so it is well worth the time to identify what you are getting. Having recently obtained a wood burner and splitting maul, I am looking forward to trying this.