Tip: How to Find Free Mulch

WHY PAY FOR MULCH IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO? You can probably get all you need for free, just as I do. Here’s how:

Each winter, municipalities gather trees, twigs, and branches which have come down during snow and ice storms. They shred this material with powerful machinery, and leave it in giant heaps. Just where these heaps are located in your neighborhood, I do not know. But you can find out very easily by calling your local village office or town hall.

From my own town’s stockpiles, I procure each spring at least three truckloads of woodchips. I use the chips for renewing pathways in my Kitchen Garden (above) and Woodland Garden (below). I permit leftover woodchips to decompose until the following spring. Then I use them for mulch. (Freshly-shredded wood can not be used for mulching a garden bed; it robs the soil of nitrogen.)

Now, I have just saved you a tremendous amount of money. What are you waiting for? Call your local office and find out where your town’s free woodchips are!

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How to Make Your Own Potting Soil
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  1. Andrew Thompson says:

    My town has loads of free wood chips, too, over at the Water Works facility. I should probably borrow a truck and get some. Packaged wood chips from my local Agway are really expensive.

  2. I had a lot of storm damage last December. It's good to know that the branches I put out on the curb were recycled, and made available to other gardeners. Like Andrew, I can't believe how expensive small bags of woodchips or shredded bark mulch are. I say better to get them for free, if you can.

  3. We get ours from the state fairgrounds. They use the chips as bedding. The best part is they come with builtin fertilizer 🙂

  4. Angelica says:

    Hi Kevin

    What great advice-free woodchips! I will get right on that one and call my local municipality. Thanks for hosting such a marvelous site.

    Angelica from Albany

  5. Hi Kevin! My friend Alisa wants to know if she'll be able to plant an unopened packet of tomato seeds next year. There's no expiration date on the packet!

  6. Stephanie, welcome! Great idea!

    Angelica, nice to meet you!

  7. Judy – tomato seeds can last a very long time. Tell your friend to keep the seeds cool. They should be fine for next spring's use.

  8. Hi Kevin
    I love your site! Thanks for the tip on the woodchips.
    I have a woodland garden that I am developing as well. We already have the path through the trees – mostly spruce and birch. Alot of the spruce are falling because of too much water. We are getting lots of new growth and we are also planting some cedars as well.
    I too looovvve astilbe. I can't have hostas because the deer eat them.

  9. Amy – thanks for writing! I keep adding more and more hosta to my Woodland Garden, perhaps foolishly. When I entered the garden yesterday I was greeted by a young doe. She hadn't touched anything. We just stood and stared at each other for awhile; she departed when I left to get my camera.

    What zone are you in?

  10. Kevin, thanks for the great tip!

  11. Kevin, thanks so much for this tip. After reading your post, I called our local transfer (trash) station, since we had tons of ice storm damage here in NH. The guy's response? “We've got a LOT of wood chips and mulch from the ice storm…come take as much as you want.” So we did. I wouldn't have thought to phone them if it hadn't been for your post.

  12. A word of caution about the Free mulch..we did that one year and we had so many weeds pop up after that plus poison oak vine must have been on some of the trees that were cut up..It was not a good summer!

  13. Anonymous — Poison ivy and weeds…yikes. I've been fortunate with the enormous piles I've obtained from the local utility company.

  14. Kevin, great tip!

  15. Hoosier John says:

    A few important words of caution: Do NOT use mulch made from chipped trees, brush, etc. that utility companies and municipalities provide, usually free to the public, right up against your home or other buildings. It's like spreading out a smorgasbord for termites! I know this first hand as some good friends had this experience with thousands of dollars of damage. They had called me to ask about lots of “white ants” around their house in the mulch that they had gotten free from the electric utility's tree trimmers. When we raked back some of the mulch, it was amazing how many termites were uncovered. They were already in the foundation joists.

    Always use pure BARK mulch next to homes as termites eat wood pulp, not bark…that's why trees are wrapped in bark!

    Chipped wood and brush is excellent for mulching paths, flower beds, and even vegetable gardens (after aged for a year). Just avoid using it where it will be up against any foundation.

  16. Hoosier John – wise points. I do not use shredded wood to mulch my foundation plantings; for such areas I use shredded leaves. I do use the chips for paths, and, when decomposed for a year, as mulch for the various gardens here.

  17. that’s not a half-bad idea – could get a bunch of bedding from the 4H down the road.

  18. Zone 6 whitetails will totally devour a bed of hostas, know from experience. 🙁

  19. Unfortunately, our city charges you for taking bags of leaves and tree branches to the recycling center, then charge you to buy the mulch they made from it. It’s a nice revenue for the city, but I don’t like the double dipping.

  20. Crystal – Well, now I’m curious. Since they are charging at both ends, do they at least deliver the finished product to you? Or do you have to pick it up?

  21. Penster47 says:

    They cut the tree branches around here before winter to reduce the carnage from the winter ice storms. The company that does it gratefully dumped loads from their chipper into neighborhoon yards rather than hauling it to their designated spots. Saved us both money. I have let mine sit all winter long and just added some of it to my compost pile I started last weekend. I’m going to make myself a hosta garden in the back of my yard that is shaded most of the day and will use a lot of the mulch for pathways.
    As for wildlife eating your plants, I’m told by an old gardener friend that if you sprinkle your plants with ground cayenne pepper, they will leave them alone.

  22. never even thought of this!! fantastic idea! Especially after all the tree damage in October..

  23. Joy Muray says:

    Just ran down the Road crew today and got a free load of chips. Wonderful.

  24. Fab idea. Now, if only I had a place to store the chips for a year. . . If using them for pathways (and not to mulch planting beds) is it essential to let them sit for a year?

  25. Alester – Nice to meet you. You can use fresh, shredded woodchips for pathways.

  26. Cindy Pack says:

    RE: deer eating hostas. I have been told that human hair scattered around hostas, and other plants that deer love, will deter them. Local beauty and barber shops should be happy to provide you with literally pounds of this every week, just ask!

  27. Riversana says:

    I got really excited about this tip with 215 ft of new flower bed desperately needing mulch, but my town (rural) burns everything, and the local tree trimmer services don’t chip the branches, they just dump them. *sigh* Looks like I’m going to have to buy some, and I was SOO hoping for something organic!

  28. Deb Haack says:

    I spent Mother’s Day weekend shoveling red cedar mulch into our tractor front loader. We saved 10 bucket loads full for next year. The nice thing is that this mulch came from the highway on the opposite side of our property. The county cut down all of the cedar trees this winter and mulched them. I have seen several people out retrieving free mulch. I think that you have saved me about $400.00 in mulch for next year. Thank you, Kevin.

  29. Kevin, I just want to say thank you so much for putting all of this valuable information together on your website. You would never know that I am a gardener’s daughter, due to my black thumb of death. 😉 Your outlines and tutorials have truly helped. This is the first site I’ve found where the gardening is local to my area (I’m from CT); the information is just right for my zone. My garden and I thank you!

  30. Tom Rowan says:

    Kevin, great site!

    You stated:”Freshly-shredded wood can not be used for mulching a garden bed; it robs the soil of nitrogen.”

    This is only true if you MIX the chips INTO the soil. If you only use the chips to cover the soil it does not affect the nitrogen. Simply look at the forests. The wood chips lie on top to protect the soil while the earth worms and other organisms do their work. The vegetation is always green and the top soil deep and fertile.

    Hope you are having a great year!

  31. Kevin, thanks for the great info but of course, I do have a question.

    If you use these wood chips in your garden in the pathways and don’t have raised beds as I don’t, do I have to be concerned if these aren’t organic and I am trying to grown everything organic? What if the trees were sprayed with something that would not be good for the garden? Maybe it isn’t a problem, but I was just wondering as I need to work on the pathways through my garden this year and this seems like a simple solution. Thanks for all your great information. Now, since I’ve posted on your website, even though it is January, will an angel still get her wings? I hope so!!!


  32. Kevin — should also add that I am in growing zone in the Taconics/Berkshires.

  33. Great advice! I get my mulch for free too! When I first started I didnt even have a truck. I used multiple plastic bins big enough to be worthwhile but small enough to lift by myself and fit into my trunk. I used old sheets to cover the floor of the trunk(and also my back seats if it came to that!). Sometimes I made multiple trips but it is definately worth it!

  34. So to be clear, the wood chips that can be obtained for free from your own town’s stockpiles DO NOT have to be aged before using as a mulch for beds?

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