Last Modified: April 2, 2024

Wood Chip 101

the Basics of Wood Chip for DIY Landscaping

Logs in a pile in a forest

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Welcome to "Wood Chip 101," your guide to understanding the different types of retail wood chips available from UK suppliers. Whether you're a seasoned gardener, a DIY homeowner, or new to the experience of outdoor design, understanding which wood chips are best for what job can be key to successfully improving the beauty and health of your garden. From the dense, moisture-retaining hardwood chips to certified play chips, our guide takes a big-picture look at the main varieties available to help you make an informed choice for your outdoor space, even delving into some aromatic and exotic specialty chips.

Whether you are planning a minor garden feature or a larger outdoor renovation, join us as we cover the fundamentals of using wood chips to enhance the outcome of your DIY landscaping projects.

A quick heads-up regarding our freshly introduced tool, the 'Pebble Picker', accessible in the sidebar or menu. It streamlines the task of viewing and comparing decorative aggregates, organised by colour and type, for your convenience.

Young plants growing in a wood chip garden border

Key Takeaways

  • Variety: From hardwood chippings to play-grade chips, there are many types available.
  • Naturally Durable: Most wood chips will take 3 - 7 years to decompose.
  • Applications: Using wood chips is a natural choice, decomposing over time and contributing to the soil's fertility.
  • Weed Control: They naturally suppress weeds and enrich the soil with nutrients.
Landscaping bark on a garden

What are Wood Chips?

Wood chips, categorised as wood chippings for gardens, are a group of organic materials derived from tree bark or wood. They are 'chipped' fragments, produced from a variety of sources ranging from arborist waste chippings, by-products of timber milling, and renewable forest products. Last, and definitely least, they are made from wooden pallet recycling.

Bark chippings are often called wood chips despite being made from the outer layer of tree bark. This article is focused only on wood chippings, although we cover bark in more detail, beginning with our article about the types of garden bark mulch. Very much like this article, it also contains links to many other resources about the various kinds of bark available for your gardening needs.

The Main Kinds of Retail Wood Chips

There are various wood chips from different trees, and they all have unique advantages and shortcomings. The most common species used in the UK include pine, spruce, mixed conifer and birch. The products fall under seven main types:

  • Hardwood chips
  • Softwood chips
  • Play chip
  • Engineered wood fibre
  • Wood mulch compost
  • Equestrian wood fibre
  • Speciality wood chips and shavings

It should be noted that there are countless brands and suppliers of each type of product, and their specifications and availability can vary significantly. But have no fear; we have demystified them for you in our individual product pages, with an in-depth analysis of each type, which you can find linked below.

Bark wood and coloured red chips next to each other for comparison

Softwood Chips - Economical and Soft

Softwood chips, such as those from pine or cedar, decompose more quickly than hardwood chips but are also generally far more economical. They are beneficial for gardens that require frequent mulching and soil enrichment, breaking down faster than hardwood to rapidly improve soil fertility. However, conifer mulches should be aged before being used around young plants. The product page can be found under hardwood chips, below.

Hardwood Chips - Durability and Appearance

Hardwood chips are excellent for mulching in perennial flower beds, around berry bushes, and on permanent pathways. They are ideal when you want a long-lasting mulch because hardwood chips decompose slower and maintain their aesthetic appeal longer than softwood chip.

Play Chip - Certified, Natural Safety

Play chip is specifically engineered and certified for use on safety floors in children's play areas. They provide a safe, cushioned surface around swing sets and climbing structures. A certified play chip is tested for critical fall height safety compliance, which establishes safe height by testing protection levels at set woodchip depths.

Engineered Wood Fibre or Cushion Fall - Play Area Alternative

Cushion Fall, better known as Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) in the USA, is an ideal material for creating budget-friendly playground surfacing due to its soft, fibrous consistency. It is used on ~75% of American school playgrounds, partly because it creates a wheelchair-accessible surface, making it ideal for inclusive playground designs. Cushion Fall is also available in the UK and in some fun colours, too.

Wood Mulch Compost - Economical Soil Improver

Compost mulch is a well-rotted wood chip mulch that combines the benefits of mulching and composting, and is great for improving soil structure and fertility. It helps maintain soil temperature, retain moisture, suppress weeds, and can be used in various garden areas, including around trees and shrubs, vegetable beds and flower gardens.

Equestrian Wood Fibre - Horse Arena Surfaces

Equestrian wood fibre is excellent for creating all-weather surfaces in equestrian areas. It is uniquely suited for equine applications, offering a stable, cushioned surface that is ideal for horse arenas and walkways.

Specialty Wood Chips and Shavings

If you are facing insect problems in your garden or want to avoid pest issues, cedar chips are a helpful solution. Cedar mulch has natural pesticide properties and can be used effectively at the base of plants.

Using sawdust or wood shavings as mulch is an excellent way of boosting the active composting of wood for soil improvement, although there will need to be some nitrogen source added. They can also be used for animal bedding, especially prior to using as much.

Pine bark texture of a tree

Benefits of Wood Chippings for Garden

Wood chips offer numerous benefits for gardens. They act as a natural mulch, regulating soil temperature and moisture levels while preventing weed growth and reducing the need for constant weeding and watering. Further, wooden chips enhance soil health by gradually breaking down and enriching the soil with organic matter, improving its fertility and structure. But that doesn't mean they aren't also durable, as woodchips can take up to 7 or more years to decompose, depending on the type.

Additionally, wood chips improve the look of a garden by adding light and a sense of space to areas or by creating a well-defined garden path or walkway while providing an effective erosion control measure by stabilising soils and improving its structure.

Handful of freshly shredded tree

How to Use Wood Chips for Gardens

As resources for landscaping and garden maintenance, wood chips are an economical, versatile and widely employed option. This section will broadly cover the primary uses of wood chips for garden design and maintenance, shedding some light on the ways natural chip wood can contribute to a beautiful and sustainable outdoor space.

Decorative Groundcover, Borders and Pathways

From creating a serene garden pathway to defining a low-maintenance border, wood chippings are a budget-friendly way to create uplifting and durable ground covers with ease. Installing a natural patio floor can also be done by gardeners of any level, especially if you follow our step-by-step DIY guide on how to lay bark chippings.

Laying hardwood chip on top of heavy duty weed membrane. Jpg

Play Area Safety

In playground projects, products like certified play wood chips and EWF are used to create a play surface that softens the falls of children and provides some extra cushioning during play. Although they may not offer the same level of protection and permanence that inorganic solutions like  rubber mulch or rubber wet pour surfaces do, they are natural and far more affordable.

Chicken Runs

Hardwood wood chips, in particular, make an excellent surface for a chicken run and chicken coop. Not only are they a natural and hard-wearing surface, but they also provide some entertainment for the chickens as they search for insects and anything else of interest. Using bark or softwood chips for chicken runs can be more problematic than using hardwood chippings. Softwood soaks up the mud more readily - an issue to avoid. Also, bark can badly affect the health of your birds due to serious problems arising from mould growth.

Along with the aforementioned general benefits, their versatility also explains why professional landscapers always use wood chips in their day-to-day work. Did we mention the benefits of mulching?

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

Mulching with Wood Chippings

Mulch is anything that covers the soil surface to protect soil and plant roots, and it can be made from pretty much any substance. Mulch is also used in paths and between pavers to reduce weeds and provide a clean appearance.

Wood chippings mulch around young plants

The Benefits of Mulching

Mulching provides many benefits to your plants and garden. Among them include:

  • Suppressing weeds
  • Maintaining soil temperature
  • Minimising erosion
  • Improving soil fertility and soil structure
  • Conserving moisture
  • Reducing pests and disease

Applying as a Mulch

Lay 2.5-5 cm (1 to 2") of wood mulch over a nicely broken-down organic layer such as leaf litter or compost. Level and smooth the surface to ensure even coverage and create a pleasing-looking texture.

Shredded bark mulch around heather

Tips to Buy Wood Chips

Buying bulk wood chips is usually the best way to get cheap wood chips, and generally, you will find these wood chips for sale by the bulk bag or loose load delivery.

Free Wood Chips?

However, it is also possible to get arborist chippings from a UK site called freewoodchips. It must be noted that the wood chip will be very green and may need some time to fallow before being safe to use. Plus, it's a wildcard, as you can never be sure of precisely what you will get, so you will need to be careful about how and where you use them.

Tree shredding in a forest

Ordering Wood Chippings Delivered

If you want to minimise the potential for headaches, from certified wood chips suitable for play areas to nutrient-rich ones for gardens, there are many suppliers of products from the above range ready to be delivered. 

Plus, for your added convenience, each of the product pages under our wood chippings category also has a feature that lists the suppliers who deliver to your locality and includes stock availability, unbiased product reviews and a quick-look price comparison of all your options. This can save a lot of time searching the dozens of companies in Google search who don't actually deliver to your area. (Feature coming soon)


If you're seeking a natural solution for your garden with wood chippings, there is a type that can suit just about any application. From establishing natural-looking paths to environmentally friendly play areas and mulching with a substance that will keep on giving, with wood chips, you can get the job done and create a space that will look naturally beautiful for many years to come.

Pine forest in the sun


What is a wood chip and do they stop weeds?

A wood chip is a small piece or chunk of wood, typically used for mulching, creating play areas, and other garden-related tasks. Yes, wood chip laid as a mulch is an effective weed control method. For even greater durability, laying a heavy duty weed membrane should result in years of weed suppression.

Is it OK to leave wood chips on ground?

Leaving wood chips on the ground is known generally as mulching. It can offer some great benefits such as moisture retention, weed suppression and soil improvement. However, you should make sure of the type of mulch you are using because certain types of wood and bark are not suitable for young plants.

What are the different uses of chipped wood?

Wood chips are versatile in landscaping and gardening, used for mulching, soil improvement, creating pathways, playground surfaces, and decorative ground cover.

Are there any benefits to using wood chips in landscaping?

Wood chips offer numerous benefits in landscaping, including moisture retention, weed suppression, soil temperature regulation, and aesthetic enhancement.

Can I use wood chips for mulching?

Yes, wood chips are excellent for mulching, providing a natural barrier against weeds, helping retain soil moisture, and gradually improving soil quality as they decompose.

How long do wood chippings last before needing to be replaced?

The longevity of wood chippings varies; hardwood chips can last several years, while softer woods may need replacing more often, depending on environmental conditions and chip size.

We have detailed product pages for the types of wood chippings products available for your play area or mulching needs.

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.