The Q&A Archives: Making mulch

Question: We have about a 8' pile of wood chips that was going to be used for mulch. We had to much for the project, so we decided to get rid of some. During the bagging process, we found mold on some of the tree limbs that were not chipped all the way. The outside of the pile was dry, but the middle was wet smoldering and moldy. How can this be avoided and what dangers are there from not using a mask?

Answer: Your wood chip pile was undergoing a natural decompostion and if you had left it alone the center would have become steaming hot, which would have killed off the mycellium (fungus). Fungal growth is a normal byproduct of wood decomposition and as soon as you stir or rake or otherwise move the contents of the pile and incorporate air, the fungus will die off and the heat will dissapate. The only concern about such a large pile of wood chips is that spontaneous combustion is a possibility. So, I'd rake the chips out into thick layers so the sun can help dry it out. Rake around in the the layers in a week to 10 days to turn them over and incorporate fresh air. When everything is dry you can bag it (leave lots of holes in the bags so moisture can evaporate), or spread it out around your trees, shrubs and perennials as a mulch.

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