You are likely familiar with wood chips, which refer to any woody material which has been broken down into small chips. Ramial wood chips, on the other hand, may be new to you. Also known as arborist wood chips, ramial wood chips are made from small diameter (under 3″) tree branches and often include the fresh leaves of the tree.
Ramial wood chips are used as mulch and help to control weeds, retain soil moisture, moderate soil temperature, and prevent erosion.
Why Use Ramial or Arborist Wood Chips?
Small branches of trees are young wood and are softer than older wood. They are much more nutritionally rich than large trunks and are higher in nitrogen, allowing them to decompose and build healthy soil at a faster rate than older wood.
Using both small branches and fresh leaves helps to retain soil moisture, moderates pH, reduces pathogens and increases earthworm population.
While ramial wood chips decompose more quickly than chips from old wood, they do decompose much slower than compost. This slower decomposition releases nutrients in a more steady stream, and benefits soil organisms. In short, using ramial wood chips will build the healthy soil your garden fruits and vegetables require.
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What Type of Wood is Best
My post Using Wood Chips for Mulch: What to Use and What to Avoid addresses the question of the type of wood is best to use as mulch in a vegetable garden.
You’ll learn the benefits of mulch, the types of wood to avoid, and addresses whether it is ok to use wood chips from conifers.
The post also discusses using wood from diseased or insect infested trees.
How to Source Ramial or Arborist Wood Chips
If you are searching for ramial woods chips for your organic garden, I highly recommend that you begin by calling arborists or landscapers in your area. Let them know specifically what you are looking for.
These professionals often have to pay dumping fees to unload their wood chips and are often happy to drop them off at your property if it’s not too far out of the way. Please do offer to pay or trade for their service.
Another source of wood chips may be your own property. Home wood chippers are available and you can chip your hedge trimmings, tree prunings, and even plants from your garden at the end of the season.
Another option is Chip Drop. This site helps gardeners get free wood chips delivered to your property.
How to Use Ramial Wood Chips in Your Organic Garden
Wood chips should never be dug into your garden beds, but rather be used as mulch on the top layer. I have found that 2 – 3? is just right for wood chip mulch. Most problems from using wood chips result from mulching too deeply.
Ideally, wood chips should be applied in the late fall or winter, giving them time to begin the process of decompostion.
In the spring when it is time to plant, simply push the mulch aside to plant your seedlings. Please see my post Using Wood Chip Much in a Vegetable Garden to learn more about the challenges that wood chips can present, and which vegetables prefer other types of mulch. This post also debunks many false statements that have been made about wood chip gardening (also known as Back to Eden gardening).
Source: The Woodchip Handbook: A Complete Guide for Farmers, Gardeners and Landscapers by Ben Raskin.
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