Are Cedar Chips Good for Gardens?

Cedar chips are a popular choice for gardeners looking to improve the appearance and functionality of their garden spaces. These all-natural, fragrant wood chips can offer numerous benefits to your garden, including weed control, moisture regulation, and a visually appealing ground cover.

In terms of weed control, cedar chips suppress the growth of unwanted plants by blocking sunlight and making it difficult for weeds to take root. Additionally, they help retain moisture in the soil by reducing evaporation, resulting in healthier and more vibrant plant growth as discussed here. With an attractive appearance and pleasant aroma, cedar chips can also create an inviting atmosphere for your outdoor living spaces.

While cedar chips offer a range of benefits for gardens, it’s crucial to weigh these advantages against potential drawbacks. For some, cedar may not be the ideal mulch material depending on specific garden needs or plant preferences. Ultimately, deciding whether cedar chips are suitable for your garden will depend on your unique circumstances and gardening goals.

Cedar Chips in Gardens

Benefits and Characteristics

Cedar chips are a popular choice for garden mulch due to their numerous benefits. They offer effective weed control by creating a physical barrier between the soil and weeds, thus preventing their growth. The natural oils present in cedar chips also work to repel various pests, including insects and rodents. This form of organic mulch can help with moisture retention, ensuring that the soil stays hydrated and contributing to the overall health of the garden. Additionally, cedar chips have a pleasant scent and a visually appealing appearance, making them suitable for decorative purposes.

Potential Drawbacks

Though cedar chips offer numerous benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to consider. One concern is that certain chemicals found in cedar can have allelopathic properties and may inhibit growth in some plant species, as noted in this research article. Additionally, cedar chips may not be as effective at moderating soil temperature as other organic mulches, such as pine needles or hardwood bark, according to this study. Finally, cedar chips tend to decompose slowly, which means their nutrient contribution to the soil may be slower when compared to other forms of organic mulches.

Uses and Applications

Despite some drawbacks, cedar chips can still be a valuable addition to many garden settings. They are particularly useful for:

  • Pathways and walkways: Cedar chips provide a fragrant, aesthetically appealing ground cover for garden paths, and their natural ability to repel insects can help keep pests away from high-traffic areas.
  • Ornamental beds: Using cedar chips in ornamental garden beds helps to reduce weed growth and maintenance, while also adding a decorative touch.
  • Moisture-sensitive plants: Cedar chips can help maintain soil moisture for plants that require consistent hydration, such as ferns and hydrangeas, by reducing surface evaporation.
  • Pest-prone areas: The natural pest-repelling properties of cedar chips make them an excellent choice for zones where insects and rodents pose a significant problem to plants.

By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of cedar chips, gardeners can make informed decisions about their use in various applications. When utilized appropriately, cedar chips can contribute to a healthy, beautiful, and low-maintenance garden environment.

Cedar Vs Other Mulching Materials

Cedar Vs Pine

Cedar and pine are both popular mulching materials for gardens and landscaping. Cedar mulch has a strong, pleasant scent due to its natural oils. Pine needles, on the other hand, offer a lightweight option that promotes good drainage. They both help in weed control and regulating soil temperature, but cedar requires less frequent replacement compared to pine.

Cedar Vs Bark

Cedar chips and bark mulches are both organic options that improve soil condition over time. Cedar is known for its natural oils, which may help repel pests and insects. Bark mulch, however, is available in a variety of types, like redwood shavings and incense cedar bark, which have different properties depending on the type of tree they come from. Cedar chips tend to be more resistant to decomposition, reducing the frequency of replacement needed compared to bark mulch.

Cedar Vs Straw

When it comes to choosing between cedar chips and straw, consider the gardening or landscaping objectives. Cedar mulch has an attractive appearance and natural oils that can repel pests. It reduces weed growth and helps maintain soil temperature. Straw, however, is often chosen for its cost-effectiveness, the ease of application, and its ability to decompose and add nutrients to the soil. It is most commonly used in vegetable gardens and is not as visually appealing as cedar.

Cedar Vs Gravel

Cedar mulch and gravel each have their advantages and disadvantages in gardening. Cedar chips add organic matter to the soil as they decompose, improving soil fertility, while also providing the benefits of natural oils and a pleasant scent. On the other hand, gravel is a long-lasting, attractive option that requires minimal maintenance. Gravel is excellent at controlling weeds and keeping soil temperature stable, but it does not contribute nutrients to the soil. Consider the desired appearance and maintenance level when choosing between cedar and gravel.

Effect on Soil

Moisture Regulation

Cedar chips can positively impact soil moisture regulation. When used as a mulch, cedar chips help to prevent soil from drying out by reducing evaporation and conserving water. This, in turn, creates a more suitable environment for plant growth. Additionally, the porous structure of cedar chips can retain water, making them an excellent choice for maintaining adequate soil moisture levels.

Temperature Regulation

In addition to moisture regulation, cedar chips also provide some natural temperature regulation for the soil. By offering a layer of insulation, they can help to moderate soil temperature, keeping it cooler during hot summer months and warmer during colder periods. This temperature control benefits plant growth by promoting a more stable and consistent environment for root development and overall health.

pH and Nutrient Content

Cedar chips may have a slight impact on the soil’s pH and nutrient content. When they begin to decompose, cedar chips can release organic matter into the soil, providing essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, magnesium, and carbon. However, it’s crucial to note that cedar chips decompose slowly, so their impact on the soil’s nutrient content may not be as significant as other organic mulches like compost or leaf litter.

As for pH, cedar chips are considered slightly acidic, meaning that they could lower the soil’s pH value over time. However, this change is not usually dramatic and may not significantly affect the plant’s growth. In some cases, cedar chips may even be beneficial, particularly in gardens with naturally alkaline soil, as they can help to balance the soil’s pH levels.

Benefits for Various Plant and Garden Types

Vegetable Gardens

Cedar chips can be a valuable addition to vegetable gardens due to their ability to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture, contributing to a healthier environment for plants. In addition, cedar chips slowly decompose, releasing nutrients into the soil which can enhance plant growth. However, it is important not to apply cedar chips too close to seedlings, as they may inhibit proper germination and growth.

Flower Beds

In flower beds, cedar chips offer both aesthetic and practical benefits. The rich, brown color of cedar chips can complement the vibrant hues of various flowering plants while providing weed control and moisture retention. Some gardeners opt to use cedar chips around the base of perennial plants to improve soil structure over time, as the chips decompose and enrich the garden bed with nutrients.


For shrubs, cedar chips can act as an effective mulch to regulate soil temperature and retain moisture. By helping to maintain a consistent environment in the root zone, cedar chips can encourage healthy growth and reduce stress on the shrubs. Additionally, as the chips decompose, they contribute to the organic matter content in the soil, promoting a more fertile environment for shrub development.

Raised Garden Beds

Raised garden beds can benefit from cedar chips in several ways. Firstly, using cedar chips as a top layer can help to suppress weed growth and prevent soil erosion. Secondly, the use of cedar chips as a mulch in raised garden beds can help conserve water by reducing evaporation, as they help to retain soil moisture. Lastly, incorporating cedar chips into the soil of a raised garden bed can improve the soil’s structure and drainage capabilities, leading to better plant performance and health.

Effect on Insects and Pests

Benefits for Pest Control

Cedar chips are known to have useful properties in controlling various pests in the garden. They contain natural oils, specifically thujone, which is known for its insect-repellent quality. Cedar chips are effective in repelling ants, termites, moths, cockroaches, and beetles1. Additionally, Salvia spp. and pine needles in cedar chips have been suggested to have insect repellent properties2. Using cedar chips as mulch can create a barrier, discouraging certain pests from invading your garden and protecting your plants from potential damage.

Besides repelling insects, cedar chips can also be useful in controlling slugs. These pests thrive in damp, dark environments, and the dry and porous nature of cedar chips provides an unfavorable habitat for them. By adding cedar chips to your garden, you can significantly reduce the presence of slugs and consequently the damage they may cause to your plants.

Potential Issues

While cedar chips can help protect against certain insects and pests, they’re not a perfect solution. Some essential oils derived from plants, including cedar, have shown activity against other insect pests3. However, in some cases, these oils can also have a negative impact on beneficial insects and disrupt the garden ecosystem. Loss of such beneficial insects can lead to a resurgence of pests and increased potential for plant damage4.

Moreover, using cedar chips for long periods may have a detrimental effect on soil health and plant growth. Although cedar chips appear to be beneficial for controlling insect pests in the short term5, long-term negative impacts on the soil and plant health must be considered.

It is important to weigh the benefits of using cedar chips against potential issues before incorporating them into your garden. Selecting proper application methods and balancing the use of cedar chips with other pest control strategies can help you achieve the desired pest control while minimizing any negative impact on your garden’s overall health.

Additional Considerations


Cedar chips can sometimes cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The main allergen in cedar is pollen, which can trigger symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes in those who are allergic. If you or someone in your family has a known cedar allergy, be cautious when using cedar chips in your garden.

Bacterial and Fungal Growth

Cedar chips can have both positive and negative effects on bacterial and fungal growth in the garden. Some types of mulch, like cedar, can repel certain pests like fire ants. However, they can also promote the growth of certain fungi and bacteria, which may be harmful to plants and soil health. It’s essential to monitor your garden for any signs of disease or infestation when using cedar chips as a mulch.

Seasonal Changes

The impact of cedar chips on your garden can vary based on the season. In warmer months, cedar chips can help conserve moisture in the soil by reducing evaporation and providing shade. This may be particularly beneficial in arid zones or areas with limited sunlight. On the other hand, during colder months, cedar chips may hold too much moisture, leading to potential issues like root rot or the growth of harmful fungi.

To make the best use of cedar chips in your garden, consider the following:

  • Sunlight: Cedar chips may be more beneficial in areas with limited sunlight or in gardens with plants that prefer partial shade, as they can help to keep the soil cool and moist.
  • Zone: Cedars might be more suitable for arid zones, as they can help to conserve water in the soil. If you live in a wet or humid zone, it’s essential to monitor your garden for signs of excessive moisture or fungal growth.
  • Soil-borne disease: Cedar chips may have some natural resistance to soil-borne diseases, but it’s still crucial to keep an eye out for any signs of infection or infestation in your garden.

Choosing and Installing Cedar Chips

In this section, we’ll discuss how to select the right type of cedar chips for your garden, proper sizing and layering techniques, as well as maintaining and replacing the cedar chips over time.

Selecting Cedar Type

There are several types of cedar chips available that can be used in gardens. Some popular options include Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Western Red Cedar, and White Cedar. Each type of cedar has its unique characteristics and benefits, so it’s essential to choose the one that best fits your garden’s needs. Eastern Red Cedar chips, for example, have a strong and pleasant aroma, while Western Red Cedar chips are known for their durability and resistance to decay.

Sizing and Layering

When installing cedar chips in your garden, it’s crucial to consider the size of the chips and the depth of the layers. Smaller cedar chips tend to decompose more rapidly and provide a finer texture, while larger chips are longer-lasting and provide a more substantial look.

To start, lay a layer of cedar chips about 2-4 inches deep in the desired area. This depth will help retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and insulate plant roots from temperature fluctuations. If you’re using cedar chips for a path or walkway, you may opt for a thicker layer, around 4-6 inches, for added stability and longevity.

Maintaining and Replacing

One of the key advantages of using cedar chips in your garden is that they are relatively low-maintenance and long-lasting. However, they will still need occasional attention to ensure they continue to provide their intended benefits.

Over time, cedar chips will break down and decompose. Keep an eye on the size and depth of your cedar chip layer, adding more chips as necessary to maintain the desired thickness. Regularly inspect the chips for signs of decomposition and replenish or replace them if needed.

In conclusion, cedar chips can be a valuable addition to your garden when properly chosen, installed, and maintained. Keep in mind the type of cedar, appropriate sizing and layering, and regular maintenance to ensure your garden benefits from this versatile and attractive mulch.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can cedar chips deter pests in the garden?

Yes, cedar chips can help deter certain pests in the garden due to the natural oils present in cedarwood. These oils have a strong aroma which can be unappealing to insects like ants and termites. It’s important to note that cedar chips may not eliminate all pests but can be a helpful component in an integrated pest management strategy.

Are cedar chips suitable for vegetable gardens?

Cedar chips can be used in vegetable gardens, but it’s essential to maintain a proper balance. While they can deter some pests, cedar chips can also affect soil pH, making the soil more acidic. It’s crucial to monitor and amend the soil if necessary to maintain the best environment for your particular vegetable plants.

How long do cedar chips last as mulch?

Cedar chips can last anywhere from two to four years as mulch, depending on factors like climate, the size of the chips, and how well they’re maintained. It’s a relatively long-lasting option compared to other types of organic mulches. You can prolong the life of cedar mulch by occasionally turning the chips to promote even decomposition.

Do cedar chips repel helpful pollinators?

Although cedar chips can help repel some pests, they generally do not have a significant impact on beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies. The effect of cedar chips on beneficial insects is less pronounced than on pests, allowing pollinators to continue performing their crucial role within the garden.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of cedar mulch?

Cedar mulch offers several advantages, such as deterring pests, providing a slow-decomposing and long-lasting layer, improving soil moisture retention, and suppressing weed growth. However, there are also some disadvantages to consider, including the potential to make the soil more acidic, affecting certain plants’ growth, and contributing to the spread of cedar-specific diseases if the source tree was already infected.

Which types of wood chips are best for gardens?

Cedar mulch offers several advantages, such as deterring pests, providing a slow-decomposing and long-lasting layer, improving soil moisture retention, and suppressing weed growth. However, there are also some disadvantages to consider, including the potential to make the soil more acidic, affecting certain plants’ growth, and contributing to the spread of cedar-specific diseases if the source tree was already infected.

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