Composting Wood Chips The Correct Way

composting wood chips
You can add wood chips or wood chip mulch to improve the carbon to nitrogen ratio of a compost pile. The wood chips are a great brown material with their rigid structure, which enhances the flow of air through the compost since they are less likely to compact.

Can wood chips be composted?

Any compost heap would benefit from the addition of wood chips. The coarse texture of the chips prevents the pile from compacting, making them a suitable carbon source. As a result, air and water can flow freely.

However, they are notorious for taking a long time to decompose.

How to compost wood chips?

The composting process for fresh wood chips is straightforward. It is easy to create the piles.

It is recommended that they measure no less than four feet high and six and a half feet wide. In general, the larger the pile, the faster it will decompose.

  • The organic material must be chipped and soaked with water to break down rapidly. You will need a lot of watering cans if you live on an allotment.
  • It is possible to compost most types of wood chips. A hardwood such as oak or hickory will be more stubborn than a softwood such as pine or yew. However, everything eventually breaks down.
  • It is recommended to avoid the use of black walnuts, tree of heavens, magnolias, and eucalyptus since they all emit allelochemicals.
  • The easiest way to build piles is to layer wood chips, shavings, sawdust, watering as you go, tamping down, and adding the next layer.
  • To recycle the excess water, you quickly learn how to construct a moat around the base.
  • When you reach the top of your pile, cover it with leaves or grass clippings (preferably wet since a proper moisture level is critical), branches, and boughs to keep everything in place.
  • To keep the moisture in, drape a tarp over the area.

A pile of wood chips will become a rough mulch after 2 months. A 4-month decomposition process resembles leaf mold; a 5-month decomposition should yield humus.

How long does it take for wood chips to compost?

In the compost pile, only the outer surface of the wood chip is available to react with the microbes as it has an average C:N ratio of about 400:1.

A 3 – 6 month composting period will result in approximately 1/3 of the wood chips decomposing.

Complete decomposition could take up to 2 years.

Are wood chips acidic or alkaline?

In composting, wood chips are considered acidic and brown.

There is a significant amount of acidity in wood chips from conifer species such as pine, spruce, fir, and hemlock.  

How do you make wood chips decompose faster?

Here are 4 ways to speed up the process and compost wood chips fast if you do not have years to wait:

  1. Add some nitrogen
  2. Reduce the size of the wood chips
  3. Inoculate it
  4. Get the pile hot

1. Add Nitrogen

C:N ratio of wood is 400:1, which indicates that it is a high carbon, low nitrogen material. Nitrogen is the main source of energy for the microbes that break down the wood. The pile will work faster if you add extra nitrogen.

Options for the best source of nitrogen are:

  • animal manure
  • urea
  • coffee
  • grass clippings
  • lawn clippings
  • ammonium sulfate
  • kitchen scraps
  • comfrey leaves

Unless you are composting a large amount of wood chips, highly concentrated nitrogen sources such as urea and ammonium sulfate are unnecessary.

In the case of home composting, less concentrated sources like manure are acceptable.

Rock dust is another additive that lots of people recommend. It’s full of nutrients to feed your microbes.

And more food means faster composting. You definitely can’t do any harm by adding it.

2. Reduce the size of the wood chips

The smaller the wood chips, the faster they will decompose.

You may want to consider investing in a powerful home wood chipper if you have branches at home that you need to process. This will ensure the chips are as fine as possible. You can maintain the efficiency of your chipper by sharpening the blades.

If you have inherited bulky wood chips, you can always run them through the chipper shredder a second time. Be cautious of any stray debris, such as rocks.

3. Inoculate the pile

Microbes such as bacteria and fungi are responsible for the breakdown of organic matter into compost. Bacteria are the faster of the two types. Since fungi are slow to form networks, materials that favor fungi typically decompose slower.

The lignin in wood makes it resistant to bacteria. Therefore, fungi perform most of the work at the beginning, breaking down the lignin into components that bacteria can utilize. Mold in your compost is an indication that microbes are at work.

You can inoculate your compost pile with fungi-rich substances to accelerate the development of fungal networks.

Making fungal-rich compost tea is one method of achieving this goal. The mycelium of wine cap mushrooms is one of the best activators for wood chips, but any mushroom spawn available in your area will serve the same purpose.

Only honey mushrooms should be avoided.

For the best results, add the inoculate before rain if you are adding it to an already established compost pile.

Rainwater will ensure that the mixture is evenly distributed among the chips.

4. Get the pile hot

Composting wood chips using hot composting is the fastest method.

Hot compost is composed primarily of carbon and nitrogen, followed by oxygen and water.

Make sure to water the pile as you build it and again whenever you feel it is becoming too dry. It should be visible wet but not soaked. Cover the pile with a tarp if you live in a particularly sunny area to prevent it from drying out.

Wood chip piles are likely to remain well aerated without much intervention. Compost piles with wood chips have a porous texture, facilitating air circulation.

If your gut tells you that the heap needs more oxygen, you may turn it, but be aware that this might disturb the delicate fungal networks developing within the pile. Turn the pile only if it is absolutely necessary.

In addition to aerating the pile, turning also facilitates material movement from the outside to the center of the pile.

The hottest part of the pile is the middle, so this is where the decomposition will occur the quickest.

What can you mix with wood chips for compost?

Green materials like food waste, kitchen waste, coffee grounds, or other organic composting materials greatly benefit from adding wood chips.

Can worms break down wood chips?

Worms consume organic waste and wood chips if you use them for bedding.

An earthworm breaks down tough cellulose fibers with the assistance of bacteria and fungi in its digestive system.


Discovering composting as a way of life or even better, as nature’s way of recycling, Ana dedicates her time to trying out new methods of composting at home. Her goal is to share everything that she’s learned in the hopes that it will help others discover the amazing rewards of composting.

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