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Gardener seeks advice after noticing steam emanating from their wood chips: 'I'd let it do its thing'

But the microorganisms will still be there.

But the microorganisms will still be there.

Photo Credit: iStock

Wood chips can be a gardener's best friend. They help retain moisture, prevent erosion, and suppress weeds — and decompose into rich organic matter.

But what should you do when steam starts rising from your pile of wood chips? That's the question one gardener asked on Reddit. 

"Received a steaming pile of wood chips. Advice needed!" the Redditor captioned their post, which includes a picture of a big pile of wood chips in a backyard with steam visibly coming off the top. 

In the comments, the OP mentioned that they usually add wood chips to their yard in the spring but that since they had trees pruned, they got this pile in the winter. 

"It's actively composting and steaming despite the freezing weather for about a week. Should I let it keep composting for a month or just spread it out?" they asked in the r/composting forum. 

Steaming is a normal part of the decomposition process. The heat generated by microorganisms breaking down organic material causes water to evaporate, creating steam. That steam comes with methane, a greenhouse gas. But the microorganisms will still be there, just with less concentrated heat if the chips are spread out, and mulch is beneficial in fighting climate change when it covers bare soil that would otherwise emit more nitrous oxide, according to a study from the University of British Columbia.  

"Keep 'em cooking until you need them!" one Redditor replied.

Another gave the OP an estimated timetable for the process. "The color and texture will be significantly nicer after composting, at least in my opinion. I'd let it do its thing until it has cooled, which in my experience will be a few weeks," they said.  

The OP replied to that suggestion: "Thank you, that makes a lot of sense. I'll let it be for a couple weeks."

As mentioned, adding mulch around trees or your garden helps retain moisture, saving you money on your water bill. Just be sure not to build up any "mulch volcanoes" around your trees. Keep at least a few inches clear around the trunk so the root flare remains visible; otherwise, the mulch could kill the tree. 

Another good way to reduce water usage is to replace grass lawn areas with low-maintenance, eco-friendly options such as clover, buffalo grass, or native plants

Rewilding your yard with these options cuts down on the amount of time, energy, water, and chemicals you need to keep your lawn looking great. 

Commenters on the post had other suggestions for the wood chip pile, including a few who brought up using it to grow mushrooms

Another suggested the OP get a composting bin: "Composting directly with wood chips is my FAVORITE way to compost because it produces so much soil and can absorb and react with so much green waste."

As they pointed out, it's also an excellent way to use organic waste such as eggshells, fruit, vegetable scraps, and even used coffee grounds — keeping them out of landfills where they slowly rot and release planet-heating methane into the atmosphere.

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