Chips vs. Mulch

Mulch are chips that either have been allowed to decompose from bacteria or have been colored to look aged or pretty. Why would a person put chemically treated substances on one's food? Thus, chips will be the preferred, more general term.

Most municipalities provide free chips to their residences for one simple economic reason: Officials have to do something with all the trees that annually fall down. They cannot just pile them up waiting for a lightning strike to create a financial blackhole with possible loss of human limb and life. The logical, economical solution is the chip the fallen trees and invite the public to have at 'em. The same with fall leaf collections.

Before I learned that a tree remover will readily dump his generated chips on my property for free (but I give the driver a $20 for his time and some veggies for the owner), I visited the Richmond East Side dump several times each spring with my hybrid pickup.

For several years, based on the weight of the car before and after load-up, I annually transported about 7,500 pounds of chips. The process was to place a plastic bag in a trash can for easily filling as well as measuring a load I could life. With each year, I would cut an inch off the height of the trash can as I found I was able to lift a certain load consistently without tiring out. With the friendship of the arborist, I saved time and money but not my waistline which had benefitted from the exercise.

Even if you have a non-hybrid pickup--the real thing--I encourage you to use plastic bags (Construction, 3mil). Thus, when you get home, you do not have to pitchfork the chips a second time into a wheel barrel, bucket, or bag. Just pull the bag where you want it and dump it.

Heads up: If you go to a dump for chips, take a pitchfork, not a shovel. Shovels do not slip into chips. I was always popular at the dump because I always took two or three pitchforks which I would lend to the shovel first-timers. If one has a monthly round of thrift store visits, one will come across garden tools for pennies on the dollars, usually, two or three dollars. I pick them up for such occasions or to give to a neighbor when I see they can use it. It is nice when one can help a neighbor with a few dollars that will save them twenty or thirty dollars. (And, it never hurts to have a backup whether in-house or next door.)

Often to discourage people from using mulch from public sources that is usually free, commercial mulch sellers talk about termites in such free mulch. This is a business lie. Termite colonies develop in the ground where the queen resides. While one might find a foraging termite in mulch, one will not find the queen. The forager is not going to eat your house as his lifespan is not long and his offspring are non-existent.

One of the reasons for using chips is to prevent weeds growing due to the bacterial decomposing the wood extracting nitrogen from the top 1/2" to 3/4" soil which prevents weeks germinating and growing. Do you think the chemical coloring of the chips into pretty mulch improves or reduces the ability of the bacterial to prevent weed germination/growth?

Another reason for putting chips on your garden is to reduce moisture loss. The chips act like a barrier to moisture evaporation. This reduced evaporation is improved by another benefit of chipping your garden, lower soil temperature as the chips are an insulation against heat. This is important given the increase of heatwaves in frequency and intensity.

Another benefit of using chips is that one can till them into the soil in the fall so that the soil becomes enriched by this added biomass. In two years, my clay soil became black loam by this approach.

A cubic yard of mulch will provide a 1" coverage for 243 sq.ft. Thus, if one has a 20x25 garden of 500 sq.ft., one would need about 2 cubic yard.

size sq.ft. 500


1500 2000 3000 4000

at 1"







at 1.5"







For my 4000 sq.ft. garden, I get  about 25 cubic yards in one delivery.

One can determine the cubic volume of the delivery by the height of the cone formed when the arborist dumps the chips.

Height in feet






Cubic yards 1 3.5 4.8 8.4


In terms of encouraging and helping citizens garden so as to reduce the cost of living, reduce our CO2 sinning, and promote mental health, cities should require private commercial tree cutters to dump their chips at the elementary school in which school district the trees were cut for homeowners to use. Thus, the arborist does not have to haul extra weight extra distance that generates CO2 gas from burning fuel and the homeowners benefit in kind.

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