En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - August 19, 2010

From: Wimberley, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Soils, Trees
Title: Using cedar chips as mulch in Wimberley, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


In TX Hlll Country there is an abundance of wood chips, usually "cedar", which I have used as plant mulch. Since wood chips extract nitrogen to decay, do you consider chips a poor choice as plant mulch?


This is one of those things that everybody has an opinion and/or theory on. Even the experts change their minds ever so often. If you Google on "wood chips as mulch" you will run across one garden forum after another, chock full of the opinions of each contributor, often conflicting.  A blog from PennLive.com on Fresh wood chips as mulch pretty much summarizes our opinion.

The decomposition of those wood chips is going to introduce some acidic content into the soil. In Central Texas, we have a pretty alkaline soil, and a little acid couldn't hurt. However, we also agree that oveuse of fresh wood chips can have a negative effect on the plants growing there. We are great believers in the compost pile. Composting those wood chips for a year or so, spraying a little water on it when there has been no rain, and throwing grass clippings and other green matter for nitrogen in the pile will make a wonderful mulch/soil enhancer. The blogger we referenced says it's okay to just pile up the chips and let them rot for a while. 

Since, as you say, there is an abundance of these chips, often free, it's hard to turn down that opportunity to recycle the leftovers of clearing and cleaning up woody plants.  If you really want to use the chips right now, no waiting for composting, don't use more than about an inch on the soil, and if you are concerned about the nitrogen, sprinkle some high-nitrogen fertilizer, like for lawns, on the soil before you put down the mulch. Not too much though, if you are growing native plants they don't need fertilizer and high nitrogen fertilizer can promote more leaves and fewer blooms in the plants you are mulching. 


More Compost and Mulch Questions

Newly planted magnolia in Hedron NE
September 19, 2010 - We planted a Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' in our landscape about 2 weeks ago. It is approx 7' tall. My question is should the leaves on it all be turning brown and crisp already or are doing some...
view the full question and answer

Planting from pots in summer in Austin
July 01, 2009 - It's the last week in June and temperatures are going to be at 100 or more all week. I've some plants that I'm wondering about transplanting to an exposed site in this heat: muhlenbergeria lindheim...
view the full question and answer

Conditions for growing Anacacho Orchid in Smithville TX
January 24, 2011 - What conditions (soil type, sun/shade, understory? etc.) to grow a healthy Anacacho Orchid tree? And what is the best size tree to plant?
view the full question and answer

Trees for cutout in driveway in Houston
November 12, 2010 - I live in central Houston. I have a new driveway with a cutout of 4' x 8'. I would like to plant a shade tree that will not break up the concrete. What do you recommend?
view the full question and answer

Gardening advice for Quebec
April 15, 2011 - I live in Aylmer Quebec 1. I bought some lily bulbs at a Christmas bazaar. When can I plant them and what do I put in the hole with the bulbs? 2. I bought a little potted cedar at COSTCO for a Ch...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center