Wood Chip Worries

Asked May 29, 2017, 9:21 PM EDT

Our Home Owners Association has wood chips, moderate sized, spread on top of a large expanse of soil. It appears to be killing some of the recently planted landscape. Since this is coastal Southern California, it may take many years for these wood chips to decompose. We want a water efficient landscape of plants. What plants or remedy do you recommend?

San Diego County California

1 Response

Wood chip mulches are useful in landscapes for various reasons, among them that they provide a coarse-textured insulation that protects the soil and root systems from temperature extremes while allowing air and moisture (rainfall and irrigation) to penetrate. Such mulches are typically applied as a 3- to 4-inch deep layer.

Because the affected plants were installed recently, my best guess is that the follow-up care may be lacking. This often relates to water, either excessive or insufficient amounts. It’s very likely that the rootballs are dry.

Adequate moisture is critical to survival early on, even for plants that are considered drought-tolerant. Put differently, woody plants (trees and shrubs) must be irrigated on a regular basis for the first 2 years, gradually reducing the frequency to what is normal for that plant.

We can explore this issue further if you attach images of the affected plants as well as their surroundings. (You can add up to 3 images per reply.)

Please include as much information as possible about the kinds of plants and their size when installed; how they were planted; the prevailing weather since installation; and follow-up care.

Or you can contact the Master Gardeners at the San Diego County Extension Service office. Phone (858) 822-6910. Website: http://ucanr.edu/sites/sdmastergardeners/