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Arborist Chip Mulch Much?

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Arborist chip mulch is our favorite!

Arborist chip mulch material used to be an unwanted by-product. But today it may seem like an impossible-to-find commodity. Still, if you’ve put off trying chips in your garden because you didn’t have luck finding them, we’ve got ways to help you. However, we don’t sell them. And if you’ve skipped using arborist chip mulch for any number of other reasons, I challenge you to read on and see if your excuses still hold up by the end of this article.

Cedar arborist chip mulch

Cedar arborist chip mulch fills the garden with fragrance, nutrients & weed suppression.

What exactly is this stuff?

Arborist chips are essentially anything an an arborist puts through their chipper. This means that they’re coarsely chopped up bits of branches, leaves, blooms, berries, and anything else they chop down.

arborist chips in the making

Branches, leaves & more going into an arborist chipper.

So, as an arborist goes from job to job during a day, s/he may fill a truck with trimmings from a sheared laurel hedge, thick branches from a cedar tree and viable bits of fruit from a holly tree. Some of the material may come from healthy plants; some may come from diseased plants. Like anything you bring into your garden, chips are a mixed bag.

Why do they make great top dressing?

Arborist chip material, which is a by-product of tree work, includes all parts of a tree. (Well, maybe not a lot of roots, but all parts of the top growth.) And the chunks are in variable sizes. So they can create a nice thick layer over beds. That means they can protect plant roots from weather extremes. And decompose slowly, so you don’t have to add them as often as some other top dressings. Plus, they feed soil microbes. Then they release nutrients into the soil as they break down.

arborist chips going into truck

Chipped tree parts filling an arborist’s truck, ready for your garden!

Is it the same as Beauty Bark?

No. Beauty bark is made only from bark. Arborist chips come from all parts of a tree, including some bark.

What about Cocoa Mulch?

Cocoa mulch is another organic by-product material you might be considering for your garden. But, before you spread that chocolate mulch all over the place, consider some scary truths about using cocoa mulch in your garden in this article.

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17 comments on “Arborist Chip Mulch Much?

  1. Heidi Trembly on

    Great idea with arborist chips. Once put down,you could always top with pretty mulch. Seems like something that would be done every few years, so, you wouldn’t have to look at it for too long.

  2. Garden Mentors on

    Heidi – adding a “pretty mulch” over the top of arborist chips might defeat much of the weed suppression properties of putting down arborist chips. To us, arborist chips look fantastic on their own. But, to each her/his own.

  3. Lynette on

    I have a previously unlandscaped area that I want to start to develop this year. Right now it has some weeds but mostly long grass and the soil needs to be improved as it’s quite rocky right now. I’m not sure where to start. One person suggested that I put cardboard down and then put arbor mulch on top of it and leave it for 6-10 months. I’m a little aghast at the timeline, but besides that then I’m wondering if I add new soil and fertilizer on top of that?? Do you have any suggestions on how to start an undeveloped area? I am in a zone 5 area so 10 months would put me back into winter I guess that would be okay as long as I know I would be ready to start planting next spring. Any advice?

  4. Garden Mentors on


    Without being on your site, it’s tough to make suggestions. The sheet mulching technique you described that someone else suggested is one the ways we often recommend folks go. Where you live, what your climate is like, what your soil composition is and many other factors can contribute to how long passive sheet mulching can take. You can learn more about this technique here:

  5. Kathryn on

    After 25 years: our path around an Oval of grass of pea gravel on black cloth & plastic is now a Dandelion & Cheatgrass explosion. This also was used on other large areas in lieu of Grass for reduction of Water use in arid Colorado. Is the mulch from the Cottonwood Tree acceptable to spread OVER the remaining old pea gravel & black cloth.?

  6. Garden Mentors on


    Sounds like quite the mess. Adding mulch over top of the mess will probably just add to the problem. It’s hard to know for certain what your best next steps would be (site unseen), but sounds like removing everything to start over would be a good bet. Good luck!

  7. Diana Besser on

    Between shrubs such as roses and such I stomped down tall weeds. layed some manure or compost down then covered it all up with cardboard or thick newspaper. Next, layed down 7″ or more straw stripped from straw bales which gave a messy look but had no weeds for over a year. All Yards front and back.
    We had to do it about every year and half since it would break down and disappear into our soil. That worked well keeping out the weeds. Sometimes i lightly covered the straw with chips for appearance sake.
    We moved 4 hours South. discovering a new weed in the yard, nutsedge. It’s everywhere and the bermuda lawns.
    But I got the urge to landscape again. Thinking of digging lawn out one foot down in parts where Im designing the bed. Then mix 10% of the newly exposed (cringe) soil below with good raised bed type soil. Will my usual way of layering cardboard and thick straw keep nutsedge and Bermuda at bay or at least slow it down?

  8. Garden Mentors on

    Diana, Site unseen its hard to know if your technique is going to work. Nutsedge can be a tough one to eradicate. It may take some digging of the worst culprits and removal of any seed heads. Keeping seeds from reaching the light is one of your best bets. Good luck!

  9. mary boley on

    how far from a Burch tree should the Arbor chips be?
    I know not to put the chips right up to the bark, how far from the drip line of the tree, my concern is the roots of the tree, will they be harmed by the chips in any way.
    Thank you

  10. Garden Mentors on

    Mary, It’s unlikely that the roots of a tree will be harmed by arborist chips mulched on the surface above the roots. Chips can help insulate roots along with offering many other beneficial properties. You should be able to mulch up to the trunk so long as you don’t bury the trunk in chips. Site unseen we don’t know for certain about your specific situation, but hopefully this helps. If not, try hiring a local arborist or garden consultant to help answer your individual gardener needs. Good luck!

  11. A Hopeful Gardener on

    I got my arborist chip mulch for free pickup at their yard after contacting them.
    I did it all myself using a snow shovel to fill large garbage bags.

    I am clearing my back yard of various long weeds and vines that have been left to grow wild for a very long time. A lot of them are 3 tall feet or more. It includes things like ragweed and goldenrod.

    I am hoping to reset my backyard by laying down layers of newspapers then covering it with a layer of 2″ or more of the mulch.

    How much should I concern myself about going after the roots? Or is the newspaper and mulch going to be enough?

  12. Garden Mentors on

    H – sounds like you’ve been working hard! It is unlikely that sheet mulching alone is going to completely knock back the weeds you’ve described. Try checking out our Wholistic Natural World Academy program. There we’ll take you deep into the weeds and into sheet mulching. It might help you understand more about what may or may not work in your specific situation. And, good luck!

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