Last Modified: April 2, 2024

Wood Chip Driveway


Play bark safety surface in a child's outdoor play area

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Imagine beginning each day by stepping out onto a driveway that is not only stylish but also eco-friendly and compostable. If that sounds like a place you want to launch from, read on! Exploring eco-friendly and affordable alternatives for driveways has led many to consider wood chip driveways. These driveways offer a unique blend of sustainability and aesthetic charm, but like any landscaping choice, they come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

This article provides a comprehensive look at both the pros and cons of choosing wood chips for your driveway. We also include a suitability self-test to gauge the feasibility of your project. Let's get rolling!

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Key Takeaways

  • Cost: Wood chip driveways are cost-effective, offering a low initial investment compared to traditional materials.
  • Eco-friendly: Adds an irresistible charm to the landscape with a natural, renewable resource that blends with the environment.
  • Durability: Wood has a susceptibility to water and weather while being far less hard-wearing than gravel under the weight of traffic.
  • High-Maintenance: Regular replenishments and the potential for drainage issues are some of the main drawbacks.
Bark nuggets around plants

Is Wood Chip a Viable Alternative to Gravel?

The short answer is, yes, it is possible to use wood chips for your driveway as an alternative to gravel or concrete - but it ain't all sunshine and lollipops, either. Now, whilst we draw the line at a shredded bark driveway, wood chips can be used successfully for driveways under certain circumstances, which we attempt to cover in this piece. They provide a very natural, decorative look and can also be obtained for free in many areas. However, it's important to note from the get-go that wood chip surfaces do not pack together like gravel. The drive will require regular maintenance and can suffer from drainage issues.

Next, we summarise the pros and cons of this natural alternative.

Natural chipped wood

Are Free Wood Chips Just as Good?

For constructing a long-lasting and durable driveway surface, not all wood chips are equal. Hardwood chips are generally considered the best alternative, as they are the most resilient and hard-wearing. Although they may be more expensive than softwood chips, they are more likely to result in a successful installation. Softwood chips, on the other hand, are less durable and more susceptible to water-logging.

When creating a stable and uniform surface, consistency in quality and size is crucial. Purchased wood chips can provide this consistency, which is not guaranteed with free wood chips. Although free wood chips may be cost-effective, they may contain green waste and vary significantly in composition. This can lead to various problems, such as introducing diseases or toxic species to your garden, difficulties in establishing an even surface, and increased maintenance requirements.

In our article titled "Wood Chip 101," we analyse and contrast the different aspects of the typical kinds and dimensions of wood chips that are commonly used in retail in the United Kingdom. If you are searching for arborist chips that are available for free in the UK, you can find them on this website.

Close up of pine bark

Pros of Woodchip Driveways

Wood chip driveways can be a cost-effective and eco-friendly option that looks great while improving soil health by adding organic matter as they decompose. Here are the main advantages:

  1. 1
    Cost-Effectiveness: Wood chips are often more affordable than traditional driveway materials. Especially in areas with active forestry, they can be sourced at low cost or even for free.
  2. 2
    Aesthetic Appeal: Wood chip driveways have a natural, rustic charm that enhances the landscape's beauty. They blend seamlessly with natural surroundings and add a unique character to your property.
  3. 3
    Sustainable: Wood chips are a renewable resource, and their production is less energy-intensive compared to concrete or asphalt, making them a more eco-friendly option.
  4. 4
    Soil Improvement: Wood chips can improve soil quality by adding organic matter as they decompose, fostering a healthier landscape overall.
Chipped wood mulch around a sapling

Cons of Woodchip Driveways

While wood chip driveways may initially be the cheaper option, you must factor in the fact that they are far less durable than other materials, along with the cost regular maintenance and a raft of other issues when assessing the overall 'cost'. 

  1. 1
    Maintenance: Wood chip driveways require regular maintenance, including replenishing the chips and levelling the surface.
  2. 2
    Durability: They are far less durable than conventional materials like gravel, breaking down over time.
  3. 3
    Stability: They can be prone to movement from washing away in rain and under heavy vehicle use.
  4. 4
    Drainage: In areas with heavy rainfall, wood chip driveways can become waterlogged or muddy, even with excellent drainage.
  5. 5
    Weed Control: Regular weeding may be necessary, although installing a heavy duty weed membrane can help.
  6. 6
    Snow and Ice: Weather in colder climates can lead to ice formation and make the driveway slippery.
Laurel wood blossom. Jpg

The Benefits of a Wood Chip Driveway

Many homeowners, whether inspired by the 'cottage-core' movement or motivated by a host of other reasons, are opting for wood chip driveways as they search for alternatives that are both organic and cost-effective compared to traditional gravel or artificial driveways. The benefits stem from their relative cost and a natural aesthetic that aligns harmoniously with our environment while offering a sustainable choice. We now cover them in more detail.

Cost-Effectiveness of Wood Chips

One of the primary advantages of wood chip driveways is their affordability. In many regions, particularly those with active forestry or tree maintenance programs, wood chips can be sourced for free or purchased at a minimal cost. This makes them an attractive option for projects constrained by budget.

However, it's important to remember that while the initial cost may be lower, there is a need for regular replenishment over time, which adds to the long-term cost. There is also the maintenance, which is both a time and potentially financial cost.

Need to work out how many bark chippings your  project needs? Try our free wood chip and bark calculator.

Environmental Impact and Benefits

The use of wood chippings aligns with sustainable practices, given that wood is a renewable resource widely available in most parts of the world. The production of wood chips requires minimal energy, which significantly reduces carbon emissions compared to the manufacturing processes for concrete, pavers, or asphalt. Further, by its nature, a wood mulch surface will improve the soil around and encourage biodiversity. The surface mulch can also be applied to gardens during regular maintenance, which is as an added bonus.

These environmental considerations make it a commendable choice for those keen on reducing their carbon footprint.

Beautifying the Landscape

Wood chip driveways not only contribute positively to the environment but can also bring an irresistible charm to your property. They offer a rustic yet laid-back appeal that blends effortlessly with both rural and suburban settings. The varied colours and textures of wood chips create a visually interesting landscape feature, transforming ordinary, dull grey areas into impressive blends of nature and functionality.

We have a step-by-step, DIY guide on how to lay bark chippings, for your convenience.

Natural woodland landscape

Disadvantages of Wood Chip Driveways

If you're thinking of installing a wood chip driveway or replacing an old one, it's crucial to weigh the advantages and disadvantages carefully. Although many people appreciate its eco-friendliness and easy-to-use nature, there are also significant drawbacks that must be considered.

One of the main disadvantages of using wood chips as a driveway alternative is their durability. Unlike hard-packed gravel surfaces that last longer without requiring maintenance, wood chips tend to break down quickly and are more susceptible to wear and tear. The softer composition of wood chips also means that they wouldn't pack and hold together like gravel, resulting in a bumpy surface that may not be suitable for 2-wheel drive vehicles, particularly in icy or snowy conditions.

Another consideration is that using a wood chip driveway can incur additional expenses in the long run compared to using gravel. Although the initial costs may be lower, adding or replenishing new chips annually can add up over time and become a regular expense.

Furthermore, in a case where the installation did not account correctly for the soil conditions or other factors required to meet the minimum drainage needed, homeowners could end up facing great inconvenience and far higher expenses caused by the need for emergency works, damage caused by traffic accidents or the need for added drainage where the sub-base has been set. These are some of the most common issues faced but by no means the only ones possible.

Suitability Self-Test

The suitability of a wood chip driveway for your day-to-day needs should be given consideration. Answering the following questions may help you to determine if it's a suitable choice for you:

  1. 1
    Environmental Priorities: Are you looking for an eco-friendly driveway option?
  2. 2
    Budget: Is affordability a significant factor in your decision-making?
  3. 3
    Aesthetic Preferences: Do you prefer a natural, rustic look for your driveway?
  4. 4
    Maintenance: Are you willing to perform regular maintenance tasks?
  5. 5
    Traffic: Does your driveway experience heavy use, especially from heavy vehicles?
  6. 6
    Climate: Do you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, such as heavy snowfall or frequent rains?
  7. 7
    Soil: Is the soil in your area prone to flooding or water-logging due to poor drainage?

If you answered yes to most of the first three questions and are comfortable with the on-going maintenance aspects, a wood chip driveway could be an excellent choice for your home. However, if you also answered yes to 5, 6 or 7, you might want to consider alternative materials in order to avoid myriad future problems.

Assessing how the driveway will be used and its gradient are key factors. For infrequent use or small vehicles, wood chips can work well, requiring annual top-ups. However, for frequent use, heavy vehicles, or in steep areas, wood chips may not be the best choice and warrant very careful consideration. A consultation with a qualified landscaper is highly advisable if you still have your heart set on it.

Close up of landscaping bark chips

Sustainable Alternatives

If you have arrived at this point and now have some doubts about the suitability of using woodchips, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to also abandon your noble motivations. There are more than just a few natural and eco-friendly alternatives to traditional driveway materials. Slate chippings, for instance, are an economical and popular choice which are often made from off-cuts or recycled roof tiles. They provide a durable and stunning surface that also blends well with the nature.

Decorative gravel is another recyclable option that can provide a hard-wearing and stable drive that will help with drainage and handle just about anything you throw at it, for little more than what wood chippings may cost. In addition, Hoggin self-binding gravel is another economical, sustainable and attractive option for driveways. This type of gravel is made from crushed limestone and clay and has excellent water drainage properties and a low environmental impact.

By choosing these, or many other natural and recycled materials, you stand to benefit from their durability and contribute positively to the environment, all while improving the functionality and appearance of your property.


Wood chip driveways can offer a low-cost, environmentally friendly alternative to conventional driveways, blending with the natural surroundings to enhance the overall natural beauty of the landscape. However, one should consider the many potential drawbacks, such as maintenance requirements and durability issues, before deciding whether it is the right choice for their home, for the long term.

Pine forest in the sun 1


How to build a wood chip driveway?

To start, you should evaluate the soil type and drainage capacity of the area where you want to build your driveway. Before installing the driveway, make sure the ground is free of weeds and has a slight slope to allow water run-off. Next, create a compacted sub-base layer using crushed stone and gravel. This will help with drainage and provide stability. To prevent weed growth and stabilize the wood chips, use a heavy-duty weed membrane. Lastly, evenly spread the wood chips over the prepared surface to the recommended depth.

How deep should the chips be for a driveway?

A minimum depth of 50 mm to 75 mm (2-3 inches) is recommended. This depth ensures adequate coverage and longevity, allowing for natural settling and compaction over time.

How to prevent weeds in a woodchip driveway?

Lay a heavy-duty weed membrane before spreading the wood chips. Regular maintenance, such as adding fresh chips and removing any emerging weeds, also helps in weed control.

How do you edge a driveway?

Use materials like stone, bricks, or landscaping timbers to create a border along the edges of the driveway. This helps to contain the wood chips and provides a clean, defined look.

How to calculate the amount of woodchips needed for a driveway?

Measure the length and width of the driveway area to determine the square metres. Then, use our bark and wood chip calculator to get an unbiased estimate of the volume needed based on the desired depth of the wood chips (usually 5cm - 7.5cm).

How to repair a pothole in a wood chip driveway?

Remove any loose or damaged material from the pothole. Fill it with compacted gravel or crushed stone before topping up with new wood chips to the level of the surrounding area.

There are many other varieties of wood chippings available for your project. Check out them out!

About the author 

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.