Fresh wood chips can cause nitrogen to drain from garden

Backyard Q&A

July 17, 2005|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

My bean, squash, cucumber and pepper plants are stunted and yellow. We cut down a huge maple tree and roto-tilled all the wood chips from the cuttings in the garden. The garden has produced well in previous years.

The wood chips are the culprit. Fresh wood chips are very high in carbon and low in nitrogen. Microorganisms use nitrogen to break down the wood chips, robbing your plants of nitrogen. This only creates problems in the early stages of decomposition. Your remedy is to supplement the nitrogen loss by adding nitrogen fertilizer. Fresh wood chips can also produce compounds toxic to plants. We recommend aging new wood chips for six to 12 months before using them around plants as mulch or soil amendment.

This year, I have an abundance of clover in most of the yard. What can I do to get rid of it?

Clover takes advantage of weakened lawns. It also grows well in acidic soil, so keep your lawn limed up to an optimum 6-6.8 pH. (A soil test will tell you how much lime you need.) Clover also can tolerate less fertile lawns because it fixes its own nitrogen from the air. We recommend an annual fall application of 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. This will thicken your turf grass and help prevent the clover from taking over.

Read our online publication, "Controlling Weeds in Cool Season Turf" or call us. Clover is a tough perennial weed, requiring multiple herbicide applications. Therefore, many homeowners happily let some co-exist with their turf. For routine maintenance that will keep weeds at bay, see the end of our online publication, "IPM Series: Turf."


1. Plant a second crop of squash, cucumbers and beans.

2. Stake up sunflower, phlox, coneflower and other tall plants that can blow over in a storm.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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