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How to Compost Wood Chips Fast

Wood chips are usually free if you get in touch with tree trimming companies and offer your backyard as a depositing place. We’ve been getting a couple of wood chips loads every spring, and love using them around the property. If you have a pile of wood chips and want to know how to compost wood chips fast, keep reading.

a pile of wood chips in the backyard

You can use wood compost in a variety of ways in your garden and they can also be used in your compost pile. They are a great source of carbon and they help prevent compost piles from compacting. But one thing that wood chips are known for is taking a long time to break down. If you want to use them in and around your garden, you need to know some ways to speed up the composting process. 

Wood chips can be used in many ways other than composting as well: use them instead of mulch to prevent the growth of weeds, and to protect trees and shrubs from being damaged by lawnmowers and weed trimmers. Wood chips will also add nutrients to your soil.

During the warm summer months, wood chips block the sun from reaching the soil; this helps retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation. They also prevent soil erosion by creating a barrier between the wind and the soil. And in the winter, adding a layer of wood chips to your garden will keep the soil warmer because the decomposition process creates heat.

How To Compost Wood Chips Fast

Fast composting of wood chips requires the right conditions, including temperature, volume, and air. Aeration is important to how fast wood chips compost because air facilitates the decomposition process. Chipper wood chips are great for mulching or composting. Their uniform size allows for air to travel throughout this helps maintain healthy microorganisms that are both good for the soil and help break down the compost.

The right mix of green and brown organic material is essential to compost wood chips fast. The best wood chips are arborist wood chips, which are freshly cut tree branches. These wood chips have both green organic material and brown organic material. Autumn is the season to trim trees meaning there will be an abundance of free wood chips.

Here are some ways to compost your wood chips faster: 

  1. add heat to the pile
  2. inoculate the pile
  3. make the wood chips as small as you can
  4. add a nitrogen source

Let’s look into this in more detail. 

Learn more about composting:

Does nitrogen speed up composting?

Why should you add nitrogen to your compost? Wood is a high carbon. It has low nitrogen naturally and this is why it is slow to compost. When you add nitrogen to the compost pile, it will help the wood chips break down faster. This works because the microbes that break down the wood actually feed on nitrogen. You need to give them a food source so that they can work best. What is a source of nitrogen you can find for this purpose? You might be surprised at how much you already have around the garden or lawn. 

Nitrogen speeds up composting and unlike large wood chips and beauty bark, arborist wood chips contain a large amount of nitrogen. Arborist wood chips are the best choice of wood chips. They are fresh wood chips created from recently trimmed tree branches and shrubs. Arborist wood chips contain both the branch (brown organic material) and leaves (green organic material) making them the best choice for mulch because of the available nitrogen. The green organic material decomposes providing nitrogen to the plants while leaving behind the brown organic material, the wood chips.

Maintaining the proper nitrogen level is important to the rate of decomposition. If there is an excessive amount of nitrogen it will start breaking down into ammonia, which is bad for composting. Ammonia kills some of the microorganisms that are responsible for breaking down the organic materials. If your compost heap becomes too alkaline, use neutral buffering materials to adjust the pH. 

What are some good sources of nitrogen that you can use? 

  • grass clippings
  • green leaves
  • garden waste
  • animal manure and horse manure
  • coffee grounds
  • ammonium sulfate
  • urine
  • comfrey leaves
  • kitchen scraps and food waste
  • plant roots

These and many other green materials make great nitrogen sources to add to your compost of organic matter. Any nitrogen-rich materials that help increase the nitrogen content of your wood compost pile will break down the chips even faster. It’s a good idea to use things that you were going to compost anyway so you’re working toward a common goal. 

Do wood chips steal nitrogen from the soil?

Wood chips provide nitrogen to the soil instead of stealing nitrogen from the soil. It is debated whether wood chips need to be composted before use. Some people think that composting the wood chips before applying them to the soil removes too much nitrogen. They claim the nitrogen improves the compost pile instead of the landscape. When using wood chips that are not composted (fresh wood chips) make sure to use them around established shrubs and trees instead of newly planted trees and shrubs. 

Others believe it is important to compost the wood chips before adding them to the landscape. By composting the wood chips before applying them to the garden, the carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) is reduced. This happens because the process of decomposition releases carbon dioxide.

Adding heat to break down wood chips

Composting For The Savvy Gardener: Including Hot and Cold Composting, Layer Mulching, Vermiculture and Bokashi (No Dig Gardening Techniques)

Wood chips will compost faster in the warmer months of summer because the center of the pile gets hot. You should avoid turning the pile in the cold months because the heat will escape and it slows the decomposition process. Hot composting is one technique you can use to help break down these wood chips faster so you can get to use them in your garden sooner. Heat composting is the quickest way to compost wood chips and use them for gardening material. 

When hot composting, it can be helpful to use a compost thermometer. The hotter your pile gets, the quicker it will compost so keeping a check on the temperature can be very helpful. You want to keep your compost pile between 100 and 160 degrees for best results. You also want to avoid overheating the compost pile because this will dry it out too much. Also, keep in mind that bigger piles will compost faster than small piles. 

You can also incorporate oxygen and water to help your wood chip pile break down. You shouldn’t turn the pile frequently, especially in cold months but turning some of the wood chips to aerate the pile can increase the heat. You can do this by moving materials on the outside into the middle of the compost pile where there is the most heat. And you can add some water to make your pile wet but don’t soak it completely. A little water helps it not to dry out. The microbes need water to survive too. 

What is the fastest way to break wood chips?

Volume, particle size, and temperature affect the speed at which materials decompose. The fastest way to break wood chips down into compostable material is to control the particle size, temperature, and volume of the compost. You can use a wood chipper to get the wood pieces as small as possible. 

A composting pile of wood chips needs to be between three and five square feet wide and three to five feet in height for a fast way to break chips down. This size allows the pile to reach the right temperature for decomposition.

Another factor that affects the temperature of composting wood chips is the amount of air and moisture.

Microorganisms break down wood chips and depend on the right amount of moisture and air to grow. These microorganisms produce heat when they decompose, so a fast way to break wood chips down is to keep the temperature high. It is recommended that composting wood chip piles do not go below a minimum temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or a maximum temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition to the temperature and volume of a composting wood chip pile, the size of the organic material also affects the decomposition rate of wood chips. For a fast way to break wood chips down use wood chips that are medium to large in size. This allows for air to pass between the wood chips, which helps facilitate the composting process.

Turning Free Wood Chips into Amazing Compost/Growing Soil

What’s better than free? There are many opportunities to find free wood chips and they can be very beneficial. Wood chips are an excellent tool for the garden and landscape. They provide numerous benefits including reducing weeds and evaporation.

Not only are the benefits amazing, but the cost of wood chips is also unbelievably awesome. In most urban areas wood chips are FREE! 

Composting wood chips from tree service

The best wood chips for mulch are arborist wood chips because of the green organic material that is mixed with the brown organic material. Tree services must dispose of the tree debris somewhere and what better place than the compost pile located on your homestead. Ask your local tree trimming service about delivering their waste to you for free instead of them having to pay for rubbish disposal.

How to Use Your Finished Wood Chip Compost?

There are many wonderful ways to use your finished wood chip compost. Trees appreciate proper mulching because the mulch helps retain moisture, reduces weeds, and provides nutrients to the soil and plant. For best results, pile a minimum of two inches and a maximum of four inches of wood chip compost mulch around the tree. The mulch should not touch the trunk of the tree. Make sure to leave an inch of space between the wood chip mulch and the trunk of the tree. This is important because it allows for airflow between the trunk and the mulch.

The Benefits of using wood chips

Wood chips are a versatile mulch with many benefits.

Wood chip mulch retains moisture, regulates temperature, and prevents erosion. Wood chips also provide nutrients to the soil making more nitrogen available to the plants.

While some believe it is best to compost wood chips before applying them to your landscape, others disagree. Whether choosing to apply fresh wood chips or wood chip compost to your garden and landscape, the choice will be the right one. The landscape and garden will benefit from wood chip compost.


Here are some common questions people ask about wood chips and how to use them. 

Can you compost burnt wood chips?

It is not recommended to compost burnt wood chips. The wood ash from a barbecue pit or fireplace is alkaline making it bad for the compost. If the compost becomes too alkaline or too acidic, the process of decomposition slows. This happens because the pH of the compost heap affects the microorganisms that break down the organic materials.

Does rotting wood make good compost?

Yes, untreated wood shaving including untreated rotting wood can be added to the compost pile. Before adding the rotting wood, make sure to break it up into smaller pieces. Using a chipper will ensure the wood chips are a uniform size. By doing this, you will ensure the compost has proper aeration. Without the right amount of air, decomposition will slow and it will take longer for the wood chips to compost.

Are wood chips high in nitrogen?

Not all wood chips have the same nutrient levels. Fresh wood chips with green organic material (leaves) mixed with brown organic materials (branches) are high in nitrogen. This type of wood chip is called arborist wood chips and is preferred over large wood chips or beauty bark wood chips.

How long does it take wood chips to decompose?

It takes between one and three years to compost wood chips; however, this rate varies depending on the environmental conditions. The rate at which wood chips decompose depends on the mixture of green and brown materials as well as the temperature, volume, and size of the particle.

Can worms break down wood chips?

Yes, worms break down wood chips just like they break down all other organic materials. Worms in addition to fungi and bacteria break down both green and brown organic material.

How to Compost Wood Chips Fast – Conclusion

Wood chips are great for your vegetable garden, landscaping, or other gardening needs. While you can use them as-is for a type of mulch, there is also the benefit of breaking them down in the compost bin. This also gives you something to do with your food scraps and other compostable waste.

If you want to compost your wood chips faster, you’ll need a good balance between the temperature, volume, and air in your compost pile. It’s also important to make your chips smaller to aid their decomposition.

how to compost wood chips fast
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Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check out her books below:

How to Grow Lavender for Fun and Profit: Lessons Learned from Planting Three Hundred Lavender Plants

How to Raise Chickens for Eggs: A Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens for Nutritious, Organic Eggs at Home

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