COLUMNSGenericHome Guru

A Winter Garden: Mind, Body and a Pile of Wood Chips

We are part of The Trust Project
Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

Before I moved to a maintenance-free condominium complex, my favorite duty as a homeowner was my garden work. Now, the staff plants and prunes my building’s surrounding flora impeccably. Sometimes I have to restrain myself from asking the outside staff to let me help out.

When I did my own gardening, my wife loved to tell friends that all I needed to be happy was a big pile of wood chips. It’s true. And what really made me happy, besides all the benefits wood chips bring to the garden, was the built-in physical fitness program it guaranteed by doing something practical, as opposed to 30 minutes of monotony on the NordicTrack.

As I tackled a truckload of wood chips, I was benefitting from both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. While the activity was not calculated on my diet and exercise iPhone app, I figured that it was at least as demanding as carrying wood or shoveling snow, which would burn about 350 calories for 30 minutes of activity.  But I frequently lasted for a full hour of steady work, until I was sweating and feeling the burn.

And it was a total body workout. There was stretching when spearing my pitchfork into the pile, bending my knees to take the pressure of the weight off my back, lifting with my arms to transfer the chips to my wheelbarrow, heavy duty weight pushing when I wended my way to the spot where the chips were to be deposited and more stretching and pulling as I adjusted the surface of the chips with a rake at their final destination.

What’s great about this exercise plan was that there were no club fees involved.  The chips are free, either from your municipality’s environmental or recycling department or from a tree service provider with whom you’re friendly.

Chips should be dumped where the pile won’t be an eyesore to your neighbors.  For many years I had dropped them between the far side of my garage and a tall stockade fence at my property line, but I always tried to spread them as quickly as I could to make sure it’s not a blight on the property.

Once delivered, some people get alarmed when the chip pile starts to smoke a bit from the heat generated by decomposition, but it will never get hot enough for combustion. Another fear is that a layer of chips depletes the soil below of nitrogen, but that applies only to the uppermost layer, which actually helps retard weed growth. It’s not enough to harm the plantings it surrounds.

Through the years, I found a number of uses for chips, but primarily they are for creating an insulating layer of natural material three to six inches deep around ornamental trees and, with less thickness, over my perennials and where I did my summer annual plantings. I should note that one year I was too generous with the chips and my perennials, the Black-eyed Susan, couldn’t make it through the thick layer to bloom for a full summer. However, they came back the next summer when I reduced the thickness of chips.

Hostas and daylilies can leave rather ugly remains when they die down. I cut those to the ground, covered the clipped leaves and stems with chips and smoothed out the surface with a metal rake, which I always used rather than plastic because of its greater flexibility.

Besides the joy that a good pile of wood chips can provide for mind and body, there are so many aesthetic and practical benefits to using them for mulch. They include:

.  Less labor in terms of weeding and time spent watering;

.  Reduced need for chemical weed killers or herbicides;

.  Stimulated growth in that mulched trees grow faster;

.  Reduced soil compaction;

.  Nourishment of soil by adding nutrients through decomposition; and

.  Increased earthworm population, which allows for better aeration.

Simply in terms of aesthetics, the annual use of chips helped me to sculpt my planting groupings at a high elevation, and the color of the chips blended more naturally into the informal garden.

My mind and body would always feel in full harmony with my garden’s good looks by the time frost set in. Then, I returned to my NordicTrack until spring beckoned me to my planting schedule, my real outside workout. I miss it.

Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( To engage the real estate and promotional services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.



We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.