Amazing Garden Soil Transformation Using Wood Chips!


This picture gives you an idea of just how bad our soil was when we moved into our house. Grass wouldn’t grow and even weeds struggled. The topsoil was a rock hard mix of sand and clay. It cracked when it was dry, and every heavy rain flooded the yard, because there was little organic matter in the soil to absorb water. We transformed this barren soil to highly productive garden soil over time simply by adding compost, vermicompost, and mulch to the soil surface in our shallow raised beds. We also mulched our pathways with wood chips to suppress weeds and retain moisture in the soil. What I discovered last summer is that soil in our wood chip covered pathways is just as fertile and productive as the soil in our garden beds. Last spring, in my never ending quest to grow more and more food, I broke out of the confines of our raised beds and planted tomatoes in pathways that had only been amended with wood chips. I didn’t add compost or other amendments when I planted them, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results. The plants were vigorous, healthy, and incredibly productive. They did just as well as tomatoes we grew in raised beds that had received a lot more attention over the years. Of course, the compost and vermicompost added to the beds probably improved the surrounding soil too, but nevertheless I was impressed with the results of the tomatoes grown in the wood chip covered pathways. I’m now sitting in about the same spot where our cat Maya was in the picture I showed you earlier. And what I thought I’d do today is to dig down into this pathway to see how much the soil has changed since that picture was taken. This pathway has been covered with wood chips every year for the past 8 years. Let’s start digging and see what we find. The first thing I notice is that the soil is no longer grey. Instead, it has the dark rich color of a soil that is rich in organic matter. With all this organic matter, the garden soaks up water like a sponge and doesn’t flood like it used to when we get heavy rains. I also notice that the soil is no longer hard. And my task of digging into it goes quickly and easily. The soil here used to be rock hard but in no time at all I was able to dig a 16 inch hole. The only resistance I ran into was some fine tree roots. And what is remarkable is that the soil has been transformed not just at the soil surface where the mulch was applied but all the way down to the bottom of the hole. Let’s take a closer look. The soil on top is from 16 inches down. It’s dark and rich, and like good soil should it holds together when I squeeze it but easily crumbles apart. When I reach down to the bottom of the bucket for the soil that was removed from the soil surface, I find it has the same characteristics as the soil from 16 inches down. Now let’s see how deep I have to dig before I see a change in the soil characteristics. Much to my surprise, as I dug deeper and deeper, the soil maintained the basic characteristics of being dark and rich in organic matter. It wasn’t until I reached a depth of 26 inches that I started seeing less organic matter and more sand and clay. Let’s take a closer look. At this depth, the soil loses its dark rich color, has less organic matter, and has more sand and clay. I was surprised to see that the soil was transformed to a depth of 26 inches, and I should reiterate that this happened simply by applying wood mulch to the soil surface over a period of 8 years. So, if you think you need to till organic matter into the soil to see something like this happen this is good evidence to the contrary. So, let’s get this hole filled in before I fall in. I wanted to share this with you today because people often comment on how good our soil looks, but, of course, they don’t know how far we’ve come and how bad the soil used to be. So, by sharing this transformation, I’m hoping to encourage those of you who are struggling with poor native soil. If we can transform our soil, so can you. And I focused on the pathways instead of the raised beds because I wanted to show how much native soil can be transformed by doing something as simple as keeping it covered with wood chips. Yes, the compost and vermicompost added to the adjacent beds likely played a role as well, but I’m certain the wood chips made a huge difference, and, after 8 years of mulching, the soil in our pathways is just as fertile as the soil in our raised beds. Given how well our tomatoes did last year when grown in soil amended only with wood chips, we plan to do more of the same this year. If you’ve used wood chips in your garden, please let me know what impact you’ve seen it have on your soil and on your crops. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.

100 thoughts on “Amazing Garden Soil Transformation Using Wood Chips!

  1. this is amazing! I'm so excited I finally got some wood chips! There are a bunch of rocks in the soil, should I try to remove most of them before adding the wood chips? Thank you Patrick!

  2. I added wood chips 1 year ago and I can tell the difference. We don’t water as much and soil is darker underneath. But as I go down 1 foot i still have red clay. I did add worm casting, rabbit manure, lime, etc. so the first 2 months the plants look great, then the zucchini start rottening (and I find caterpillars in the main stem making holes, tomatoes leaves getting blight (yellow/brown colors), eggplants leaves getting eaten by small bugs! ….. forget about root veggies…… only thing we can grow is basil and salad! All rest goes to hell! We are in Atlanta ga

  3. Lies, What he says about wood chips is true but as for the raised beds he would have to replace the wood every two or three years same for any fence posts the bottoms would rot away at the same rate as the wood chips. the whole set up is maintained to extract money from You Tube. My tree stakes supporting M9 root stock apple trees have to be replaced on a regular basis and i have to replace fence posts as various parts of the fence become detached just below the soil surface. This guy should make a video on how to keep eight year old raised beds looking like they were just built from new timber that would impress me.

  4. BRAVO! Finally someone showing and telling properly. You explained, then showed the evidence to what you explained. THANKS!
    Im making a pathway with woodchips, which will lead to a garden area for my bonsai trees to grow in ground. As you know, nothing gets better growth and vigor than being planted in the ground. I got large crates and wanted to replicate the "ground soil" in them for some of my special trees, that may need added protection in winter. I drilled many drain holes, but curious if it will be enough for proper drainage. I wont learn if I don't try…Right! Any thoughts are welcome. Thanks again for a great vid!

  5. Where do you get the wood chips? Our yard is really big and would cost a ton of money to use the bags you get from home improvement stores. The city does give away free wood chips but you never know what youre getting. They could have come from a diseased tree or something contaminated with toxic chemicals. Any suggestions would be appreciated. We have very sandy soil with some red clay (west texas). Our ground is very hard to dig. Thanks for the video 🙂

  6. I get too much pests on my garden, they always ruin my vegetables before i can get to them. Any suggestions? 2 years of harvesting vegetables with holes and im ready to give up…

  7. I've had raised beds for about 5 years, now, with wood chips in the walkways since then. The soil started out as some rich chicken manure mix, but, over that time, it's become more and more plain and sandy. In contrast, the wood chip walkways have actually become MORE fertile than the beds themselves. Like you said in the video, part of it might be because of the transfer of nutrients from the beds, but the wood chips have definitely improved the texture of the soil, if nothing else. I, too, started with the same compacted clay that you have. Also, after a decent rain the walkways are LOADED with earth worms… and this is in hot North Texas.

  8. Good tips, unfortunately I'm looking to improve the soil of my lawn so this isn't viable. I shall remember it for my flower beds though

  9. Just been to my local seashore and collected this years seaweed. I think seaweed contains every trace element known to man and probably a few more besides. And what's more, it's free! This is my 'go to' fertilizer of choice and so easy to prepare and use. My soil is just getting better and better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJa2DeJPFkc&t=841s

  10. Hello there, thanks for the explanation. Might be a bit late to ask, but If I were to use compost instead of wood chips, would the result be similar? Thanks in advance.

  11. A friend explained to me that just using the wood chip mulch will improve clay soil over time. I’m excited because I have fresh wood chips from some trees being trimmed and will till them in the soil and put a layer on top tomorrow for my new flower beds. I usually don’t use a tiller, but just bought one because my clay soil is so bad at our new house I want to till the fresh wood chips into the clay.

  12. "The compost and vermicompost made a difference…." That's exactly what a wood chip pile becomes. Once it is moist enough and decay begins, worms move in and eat, composting the material over time.

  13. Would this work on areas on the grass where water just puddles because of the horrible drainage due to clay soil? Would I have to remove grass, then add mulch over the area? This area doesn't get a lot of sun.

  14. Not really true…i put down 20 bags of wood chips i front of our granny house every year for 10 years to keep the dogs feet from bring mud in it…lol…the stuff breaks down…obviously..BUT THE DOGS COMPACT IT…must be great soil but still.compacted …they are all getting really really old…and well im not replacing them as i am too…dont want to leave one behind..too upsetting for any age dog…or cat….and i really doubt anybody would tske pity and take them in…

  15. You are a little stiff in your verbal presentation, but you speak with intelligence and clarity.

    Also, you remind me of P. Allen Smith in how he communicates.

  16. I have used hay… to kill evil carrots.
    they look just like carrots on top, but they hide demonic thorns and are EVIL!!
    Hay one season and now I walk all around barefoot and only get cut feet occasionally.

  17. What about bugs (ants, squash bugs, vine bores, aphids, and there's one on my tomatoes I haven't identified yet) and gophers and moles? These are my my issues. Help!

  18. I now have one concern about extensive use of wood chips and it involves bees. One day in my flower garden I watched a small bee on the soil burrow right into the soil and disappear. I was surprised. I had no idea that so many species of bees nest in soil and that exposed, bare soil is vital to these bees. I did not know this at the time and went on to cover the entire flower garden, and much of my property, with a thick layer of wood chip mulch, thinking only of "improving" the soil. Then, upon reading about how to bring in and support pollinators, I learned that bees nest in bare ground and that mulch interferes with this. So, this coming spring, I will now go back and make sure that there are multiple areas of exposed soil (mulch free) available to the bees. I remember having an uneasy feeling when I switched over so extensively to using wood chip mulch.

  19. I am part of a community garden that used to be a gas station — wood chips were piled on top of concrete, with our raised beds built on top. We add another wood chip layer every year (the garden is ~5 yrs old). What I've noticed is that grass will come up in places, and when you pull it up there is always mycchorizae underneath in those spots (but it's not even soil yet). There is also the occasional "weed" in the asteraceae which can grow, their taproots extending all the way to the concrete underneath and boring into it. It's pretty amazing… I can't imagine how much fecundity you must have with wood chips on top of dirt. I have read about a technique where you actually rotate which areas are your paths and which areas are your beds, using this phenomenon to get the most out of your whole yard area.

  20. I live in West Africa. I've recently moved to a new house. The soil is nice in the rains but in the dry season it's rock hard. There are wood yards around so I would like to see if I can get wood chips from them. Mostly the wood is hard wood like mahogany. Very sad that they cut so much down but my question is would this be OK for my garden?

  21. Our yard was similar, just bare hard clay. Not having the strength to hack at it, I did just what you did and added 5-10 inches of chipped bark every year. Imagine my surprise, when I planted another rose in my rose border to notice the dirt had changed from hard clay to loamy dark brown dirt as deep as the spade head. Of course, we have been here 10 yrs now. Roses love clay dirt so their root systems are happy and by adding chipped bark, I have little to no work weeding.

  22. Wood chip do work well. My property had white useless soil, volcanic ash they said. But years of leaf mulch, wood chips, grass clippings. manures, anything and everything that would rot, now have great soil

  23. ᗯOOᗪ ᑕᕼIᑭᔕ ᑕᗩᑎ ᑕᗩᑌᔕE ᑎITᖇOGEᑎ ᗪᖇᗩᗯ ᗪOᗯᑎ. KITᑕᕼEᑎ ᔕᑕᖇᗩᑭᔕ ᒪᗩᗯᑎ ᑕᒪIᑭᑭIᑎGᔕ Iᔕ ᗯᕼᗩT I ᑌᔕEᗪ. ᗩᑎᗪ ᗰY ᔕOIᒪ ᗯᗩᔕ ᔕO ᗷᗩᗪᒪY ᑕOᗰᑭᗩᑕTEᗪ ᗯEEᗪᔕ ᗯOᑌᒪᗪᑎ'T EᐯEᑎ GᖇOᗯ.

  24. Patrick, Impressive and interesting! So you added 6" of path mulch the first season and then 2" each year for the next 7 seasons? So 20" of mulch over eight seasons? Here in North Carolina we have clay, clay, clay and very little organics. In our area this is typical "WOODS" soil. I am encouraged by your results. Wood chips are cheap and abundant in our area and i could fill our backyard if we wanted too. What are you thoughts about tilling initially to break up the clay and then mixing in wood chips to jump start the aeration and integration of organics.

  25. Woodchips are amazing. I was fortunate to come across a place where piles of them had been sitting for about 5 years. I got about 20 truck loads and put it on my garden over a 4 year period. I can at any given time dig by hand the length of my arm with no problem. Id recommend composted wood chips to anyone!

  26. Such a simple test, but it demonstrates important truths. There's life-changing information in here. I'm already deep int o this whole approach, I've been affected by your videos for years and have applied much of what I've learned. Gardens and people, that's the focus for the future. So many ways to go about that, all I know is it's the right thing for me.

  27. If you can get over 24 inches in 8 years I hope I can get 3 inches in 1 year – lol know that's not how it works, but trying to improve the dead sandy beds out front of our suburban block with woodchip mulch so maybe I can grow something edible..
    It was great to see how far your pathway soil has come.

  28. Which approximate ratio do you recommend for the compost : wood chips layering ? 50 : 50 ? Also how thick of a layer of wood chips would you recommend ? 2-4" , 8" ? Thanks so much

  29. Do you have a good mixture recipe for raised beds ? Do you layer native soil , worm castings , azomite, potting soil , etc. or some other mix ? Also do you top the raised beds with wood chips ?

    Thanks !

  30. Hello…wished I knew about all the wonderdul benefits of wood chips on soil all these yrs. We have pure clay. Now that i know, i had aborist woodchip dropped off last week. In the last 3 days, we spread it all out as it will still act as a mulch. But because 95% of it is pine, will all the soil organisms, mycorrhizae, even earth worms, stay away or not developed?
    Any inputs would be greatly appreciated. TIA.

  31. Thanks for sharing. Great Idea. I have been and will be adding more organic cuttings to the pathways between my garden beds too. Cheers.

  32. I found woodchips an amazing tool and addition after years of never using them, I only composted plants and grass mostly, then one year about June 20th my garden was overtaken by weeds and earwigs, I killed hundreds of earwigs every night with a flashlight and cup of oil to drop them in, weeds were uncontrollable, soil was so hard and non absorbant, I heard of woodchip success and never understood how it could help me but it saved my dying garden in an instant, earwigs disappeared and was great success beside the increase in slug habitat in colder months, so on the pest side I traded earwigs for slugs.

  33. Watch the video of Paul Gautschil: Back to Eden Garden.

    The reason the mulch works so well, it's because it holds in moisture (traps the moisture in the ground), then the moisture provides housing to trillions of living organisms which live, eat and work in the soil daily, making it nutrient rich with their waste and making it fluffy with their daily activity; trillions and trillions of little helpers working day and night making the ground what it should be, a productive living organism, much like a coral reef.

  34. Wow, miraculous, over 3" a year in transformation. I live in the desert and can't even dig a hole 2" deep without soaking, re-soaking with water; so Wasteful. Now I have to find someplace/someone with woodchips; as we don't have the "luxury" of utility companies cutting down tree branches in the desert. Maybe someone with a woodchipper chopping down mesquite trees. That is the challenge….

  35. Thank you for this video! Your 26 inch depth is my current soil. I don't even have earth worms currently. I will be trying your method, hopefully in 8 years mine is as great as your soil.

  36. When is the best time to put down wood chips? I love in Northwest Ohio and I am anticipating a permaculture garden in my backyard. Should I sheet mulch first thing this spring?

  37. Your cat looks like my twin boys ! Awesome soil cute Kittie!
    Can you tell me how much water you use in your beds and how often?
    Can I use pine needles and saw dust instead? That is all I got here!

  38. A question. How would you direct seed things like carrots or beets into the wood chip covered soil, after a few years of steadily mulching with chips and clippings and such? Does the chips decompose fast enough over 2 years to not be an issue for a seeder?

  39. I just did this to my garden yesterday, but I added a ton of dead oak leaves to the soil, which is really crappy in Florida.

  40. Lol, that's what I found out this spring..decorative woodchips made the weeds on my pathways oh so happy..kinda killed the purpose

  41. I took a yard that was week killed by the landlord using gas for several years and the ground was compacted cracking clay… I tilled the clay the first year and then covered in chip…. the first year the crop was pretty good… it only got better

  42. great video!!!!I did the same thing with nearly 100%, rock hard red clay. It took only 5 years. Yes, this works amazingly well!!

  43. Fertile soil has the funny function of actually "growing" downwards by a few centimeters every year, if the conditions are right. It's pretty interesting. 🙂

  44. Great video! I learned a lot, thank you for making it and for sharing. The biggest takeaway for me, besides adding woodchips to the top of poor soil to improve it, is that tilling is not necessary. Indeed, there are many permaculture – and other – ideas that say tilling is absolutely unnecessary.

  45. sure it is good but it is an to big afford for that Little erea it is not makeable for professional farming or gardening

  46. THANK YOU for your videos! I purchased a home with clay soil and was at a loss for what to do with it. I built raised beds but the soil I got to fill them with was poor quality. So I watched all of your compost videos last fall and have lots of compost to put in them this spring. Our city hauls all of the yard waste 40 miles away to a compost facility so there are no free wood chips in town. All of our local arborists charge for wood chips (but don’t return calls so you can’t actually get any!). Thankfully I discovered that the next town over chips all of their residents’ limbs and has mountains of chips for the taking! I just got the most beautiful chips that were full of worms. 😊 The 5gallons bucket with the bottom cut out worked perfectly! I was really discouraged last year but since watching your videos, I’m am excited for this, and future, gardening seasons!

  47. I had flower garden and I used shredded bark in that for the last 30 years. We've moved from that place and now are getting into vegetable gardening. We made raised beds and have a cattle panel to grow vertically. I have tried to grow vegetables before with limited success because, I suppose, didn't mulch. I didn't know you could use mulch like shredded wood in a veggie garden. Now that I know that I should do much better. Thanks for all your videos. It's nice to have someone to watch that is close to my zone 5b.

  48. It is critically important to note that it wasn't simply the fact that you were using wood chips but you were using wood chips that had degraded over a large number of years so that what was once wood chips turned it into compost so you were really planting in compost that started out as wood chips

    The wood chips on the top are NOT likely contributing any nutrients to the plants.

  49. Been trying for over a year to find a landscaper to bring and dump a few loads out front to spread out, but no one will come out this far. This high desert valley soil is dead, dead, dead. Its sand with a BUNCH of that real fine silt, or what I call blow or flour sand. Kind of soft first 2 to 4 inchs than packed hard below that.

  50. This is my first year of applying wood chips in my gardening areas. Already there is a noticeable difference.

    Here in my part of central MO, the general soil type tends to be a hard clay surface, with expansive clay subsoil.

    So far this spring, I've only applied wood chips (I call it shreds because of the appearance) to the paths through the areas. What I've noticed so far is that the earthworm population has exploded, and along the edges of the shreds the grass appears to be growing too well. My assumption is that the water retention of the shreds is keeping the dirt more moist.

    I started with this last fall, after the gardens were done. I started with building a few raised beds, filling them with what I was told to be "yard scrapings" from the remnants of past wood chip piles at our local (city) yard waste facility. Good amount of organic material in it. Between these raised beds, I layered shreds, just to cover the mud that results from rain etc. I stockpiled a couple of loads of shreds over winter. This spring, when I went to spread the stockpiles where I wanted them, I couldn't put a shovel or garden fork into the piles without hitting worms. They, over winter, had already reduced the stockpile about 1/3.

    One area that I'm using for gardening is what used to be an older neighbor's garden plot. He had used large amounts of synthetic chemical fertilizers in this area, and only the hardiest of weeds would grow there. It was mostly bare earth., much like what Patrick showed at the beginning of this video. I am hoping to transform it back into fertile, productive land.

    Watching so many videos here on youtube about using wood chips gives me hope of being able to accomplish this.

  51. I am happy for anyone that is able to construct or buy "raised beds" and that has the additional luxury of casually working in such gardens. For most people with poor soil, these options are not a possibility.

  52. Given this fact, did you consider removing the raised beds from your garden since you apparently no longer need them?

  53. Can you give me some advice on very sandy soils? My brother-in-law's garden is very sandy, even if you dig 40 cm deep you still come across sand. If you water the ground, the water is immediately recited and the thin layer of soil is dry again a short time later. Would the Back to Eden method help with the application of wood chips?
    Thank you very much!

  54. I used wood chips in parts of my yard where I could. I noticed bugs came along. This was something like a stink bug.

  55. First video I am watching on your channel, but really great one. We have just bought a house and I have exactly the same problem. The soil has been neglected for so long, everything struggles. Once pipes and renovation work is done I will use this technique to improve it whilst building raised beds. For the moment everything is in pots and I have built 3-part compost area to get started.

  56. Do you have trouble with earwigs? This is my 3rd summer of wood chips on the garden, and earwigs are eating a lot of my plants. I know they live in the wood chips.

  57. I have lived on clay rocky soil for over twenty years and I have tried this with everything but wood chips..and I still can't grow a thing…the soil is heavy and when it gets dry it is like a brick…And I have piled wood chips but they aren't decomposing…they have been sitting for 4years …so I wonder about this method…

  58. A mixture of wood chips, rock dust powders, and bio-activated food grade or public drinking water treatment grade activated carbon powders made form either charcoal or bituminous coal can make it even better and even much faster since the rock dusts powders accelerates the biogeochemical reactions with the wood chips and with the carbon powder that helps maintain nutrients and provides a micro-porous shelter for harmless and essential soil micro-life forms to turn the soil into a self-regenerating living soil.

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