Is sawdust good for a vegetable garden?

Jonesville, SC(Zone 7b)

My uncle seems to think that sawdust is good for a garden. He knows someone who can bring loads and drop them off for a price. If there are benefits to having it tilled into your garden, what are they? Also, when would be the best time to till the sawdust in the garden if there are benefits? I know that this year is out of the question for both him and me. I plan on planting today. Thanks for any comments.

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

One time I used sawdust as a mulch. Disaster! Nothing grew! Thankfully, I had not tilled it in, so was able to remove it. The area I had it on still took a couple years to come back to normal. Sawdust will use every bit of fertility to decompose. It is slow to decompose, also.

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7a)

Sawdust poses some problems because wood is slow to decompose, and the bacteria that decompose it will use pretty much every bit of nitrogen they can in the process. Some wood is no good for a garden, like walnut which is naturally toxic to some plants. If you do use it you'll need to compensate for all the nitrogen it will use in the decomposing process so your plants don't suffer nitrogen deficiency. (They'll basically turn yellow and die)

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

That's what happened to mine.
If you are paying for the stuff, no way.
If you want to keep weeds from growing, use plastic film, either black of green. Landscape fabric will do the same thing. Just cut a small hole for the plant. It will keep the soil warmer also, so things will grow better.

Riverdale, NJ(Zone 6a)

Sawdust, in moderation, is good in composting. It is a "brown", adding structure, but not being particularly high in nitrogen. Most deciduous trees (oak, beech etc.) break down quite quickly, but conifers (pine, fir etc.) break down more slowly. Avoid wood chips (bigger chunks) since they break down very slowly indeed. Avoid chemically treated wood of all kinds (old way and new way). Avoid plywood (chemical glues) and painted or varnished wood. Avoid wood that contains natural toxins (black walnut). I personally also avoid using cedar sawdust, since I use cedar for its weather resistance so it seems that it would break down slowly.

Based on the above list of don'ts, I would be very wary of sawdust from an unknown source. I only use sawdust I generate myself, and I carefully empty my collector bags before and after using "banned" woods.

I would not recommend sawdust as a direct additive to soil. Since it is low in nitrogen, it is not going to help much as a fertilizer. In fact, there is much speculation that it adsorbs nitrogen as it decomposes, taking it away from growing plants. It does tend to raise the moisture level of soil. It also tends to encourage fungi in the soil, which may not always be beneficial.


Vicksburg, MS(Zone 8a)

I only use sawdust in small amounts from projects hubby does in his shop so I know exactly what type of wood I'm dealing with. I only add small amounts at a time to my compost bin so it will be mixed with lots of other compost items and well composted before being used. I agree with the others that, if added directly to your garden, it will burn up too much nitrogen while it's breaking down.

Telford, PA

I agree with Wulfsden and NatureLover1950 ... small quantities can be used to rebalance your compost pile. I've used some in my compost when I had a large quantity of fruit that needed more carbon to balance the mix.

Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

Well here we go. I can get all the saw dust I want for free as my husband works in a lumber mill. They saw, oak, beech, different maples, ash and cherry. In other words, hard woods.

I have been searching the web for info on saw dust gardening and there is not much. I keep hearing it will rob your garden of nitrogen and the hard woods are better then the soft, pine etc.

My husband has delt with shavings and sawdust and wood all his life. He said he has seen people use it and have no problems. This is what he told me.

1. Dont pack it around the stalk of your plants. Leave 6-8 inches.
2. Put it on 3-4 inches high.
3. Never use green/raw saw dust. Let it set for at least a year.
4. In the fall put more cow manure in and have it rototilled. Cover it for the winter.

So now that I have put it all on I am going to keep my eye on my veggie garden. Maybe I should start another thread else where as I am not a beginner.

Thumbnail by schickenlady
Burien, WA(Zone 7b)

If you continue here, the beginners can watch your progress.

Arlington, TX

Wouldnt sawdust attract termites?

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

That's a nice group of tomatoes, schickenlady.

Does rain manage to penetrate through a 3-4 inch depth of sawdust?

I was glad to see you let the sawdust sit for a year and then mix it with manure. I had a tree trimming company offer me free sawdust but I have nowhere to store it, and I wasn't about to put fresh sawdust around my vegetables.

I'm not a beginner either - been gardening for 59 years come this July! :)

Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

Thanks, there is more then tomato's. As I stated I have been searching for information on the Web and there really is not a lot and then when I do find things a lot of it contradicts itself. I found this post that was started: April 30, 2009 and the Thread had a short life.

As of tomorrow Wed, June 14th we have had rain every day. With very little sun. I just went out and scraped it with my hand its about 1/4" wet. So with that fact comes the next question. Will the sprinkler system work or will I have to hand water?

The sawdust is not mixed with manure. The garden is loaded. In the fall manure will be spreaded around and rototilled in and covered. In the springtime, the sawdust should be totally composted. (I hope). That is a long time away! :-)

I highly doubt termites would take the plunge up here in sawdust. If they did or anywhere, sawmills would be infested. This is dead decaying stuff.

Since it sat a year is not sellable to farmers for their animals for bedding, it will not take up the animal waste like it should.

I guess I am a guinea pig here and taking it one step at a time. If I loose this garden I will not be a happy gardener and my husband will have a tomato stalk wrapped around his neck. :-) Just kidding.

I have been putting the sawdust on one pail at a time for 3 weeks. Finally finished yesterday. Pests are down, it feels like your walking on a cloud and it dont take long to weed. Oh and it feels really neat barefooted.

Bad part - I am very leary and watching it very close.

Pic - 1/4" down wet.

Thumbnail by schickenlady
Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

schickenlady - yes one great thing about sawdust is that it feels great under-foot.

If the actual soil under the saw dust is damp, then your veggies are probably okay, otherwise, I would either remove the top layer of saw dust, or wet the entire depth of saw dust.

Personally, I use shredded leaves. I put on a one to two inch layer and let the rain saturate them before adding more shredded leaves - so all the layers are damp. Otherwise, I find the rain does not penetrate to the soil layer.

Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

I suggest that you know what your lumber mill is sawing before you even think of doing this. I am now convinced.

9 weeks now. If you have a question I will answer you the best I can.

Tomato plants are now almost if not over 6 feet tall. And thank goodness I dont have the weeds I had.

This is how I start.

Thumbnail by schickenlady
Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

9 weeks. I am Sherrie and do the whole garden by myself. This is my husband Jim standing between tomato plants.

Any questions again dont hesitate to ask.

Thumbnail by schickenlady
Huber Heights, OH

I have been using "chinchilla chips" in my flower beds for the past 10 years and my vegetable beds for the past 2 years as mulch. Chinchilla chips are simply used kiln dried pine shavings that are used for a week as bedding for my chinchillas. The water penetrates easily and the ground stays damp long after the non-mulched areas are dried out. Last year was the first year that my garden wasn't lawn, it was a dry hard clay where I didn't see any worms. After one year with a 3-4 inch chinchilla chip base the soil is damp and soft and fully loaded with worms. I have seen this my flower beds as well over the past decade. The used pine shavings compost quickly when used as mulch while enriching the soil. There has been a complete transformation of the soil over the past 10 years and you can easily see the difference in soil in the vegetable beds in just the 2 seasons.

Tucson, AZ(Zone 9b)

It looks really great Sherrie...can't argue with the results!


Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I put a whole bunch of sawdust in my garden a couple of years ago and had good results from it.

A pallet mill in our town went out of business. They'd made pallets out of green oak trunks for many years and left big piles of sawdust. The thing is, this sawdust was aged and BLACK down in the piles - I found an RC Cola bottle from the 1950's or 60's in it!

In the fall I loaded a bunch with my tractor and hauled it with a trailer until I had my 35' x 50' garden covered about 6" deep. Then I plowed and tilled it in before winter and had no soil problems the next growing season.

I doubt there were any nutrients in the sawdust, but it lightened the texture and helped with my clay soil. Aged, black sawdust was great - but I think new sawdust might cause problems.

Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

Its Working. I know what I have and know what I am doing at this point. Was I scared - Yes.

Dont put this in your garden if you dont know what the sawdust is.

Ozark - I will put money I will not have a problem next year. The sawdust is not raw.

Any Dont Hesitate to ask.

Hallowell, ME

I use sawdust successfully as a mulch on my blueberries and strawberries, its mostly pine sawdust. I definitely keeps the grass and weeds down.

Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

Here we go again. It will be year #2 with a sawdust garden. I can only tell you what I did.

Last year it was ash sawdust and this year it is cherry. I have done the same thing as I stated above (last year) I had no problems and basically no weeds. I had a sea of red and was only seeing red. I was loaded with tomato's.

The sawdust for the most part started to decay by late August. Come the end of the season, the garden was rototilled in October & again in early November. Then again in May. The dirt is very rich & black.

If the sawdust depleted the soil of Nitrogen, I surely would not do it again. 2 different angle shots. Sherrie

Thumbnail by schickenlady Thumbnail by schickenlady
SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Do ya'll have any problems with cats using the sawdust as kitty litter?

Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

Had a cat a few years ago and he used the worked dirt. Dont have a cat now.

White Plains, NY(Zone 6b)

schickenlady --

OT, what are you using to stake those tomatoes?


Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

wooden garden stakes bought at the local big store or ma & pa. If they got to be made lumber brought home from the lumber mill my hubby works for. It is NOT red oak or any oak.

Cherry Grove, OH(Zone 6b)

We compost our sawdust, we need it since we have so much green in the compost. But I don't see why it wouldn't work as a mulch, on top of the soil. I'd fertilize before putting it down, so the nitrogen gets to the plants.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> 2. Put it on 3-4 inches high.

Wood chips, shavings and I guess sawdust are good on TOP of soil, as mulch. They don't steal N from soil and roots up there. It is only when mixed into solil that they become a competitor.

If you plan to till wood prodcuts under, compost them first or combine with plenty of nitrogen sources like manure.

Of course, burying large chunks of wood completly UNDER the root zone, and then gardening on top of that, is a whole style of gasrdening by itself: hugelculture.

Sherrie In, NH(Zone 5a)

I guess I am done being a guinnea pig. It is still working. Any questions, message me as I dont come to this thread daily/weekly/monthly.


Thumbnail by schickenlady Thumbnail by schickenlady Thumbnail by schickenlady
Crofton, New Zealand

Thanks Sherrie for posting all the photos and information. I have a bag of sawdust thats been sitting for two years now and was wondering how to use it in my garden. Now I know how!

Madras, OR

I have used sawdust in several ways but never into the growing beds of regular vegetables, unless very aged and very rotted. I use it between rows or beds, I use it around berries to keep moisture in and weeds at bay. (raspberries, blackberries, a little around strawberries, and blueberries.)

It can rob the beds of nitrogen while breaking down, and it can shift the soil's ph too much. Once the sawdust has rotted well between the beds, I have worked it in with compost for the next years growing.. Good compost tends to help the beds stay in a good zone ph-wise.

You might also check in with your local farm bureau, or extension service about soil testing. Anyway that has been my experience

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

If I spread sawdust around my Raised Beds as walkways/pathways, will it steal nitrogen from the soil in the beds?

Madras, OR

No if it is not in the bed itself, should not damage soil you are growing in . It will eventually breakdown and be good mulch or can be added to your compost piles

Oklahoma City, OK

Quote from HoneybeeNC :
schickenlady - yes one great thing about sawdust is that it feels great under-foot.

If the actual soil under the saw dust is damp, then your veggies are probably okay, otherwise, I would either remove the top layer of saw dust, or wet the entire depth of saw dust.

Personally, I use shredded leaves. I put on a one to two inch layer and let the rain saturate them before adding more shredded leaves - so all the layers are damp. Otherwise, I find the rain does not penetrate to the soil layer.

^ What she said. This is wonderful stuff... and if you have a tree that sheds in the winter, its perfect timing to collect and reuse in the spring.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Thanks, guys!

I used my new blower/vac/mulcher this weekend on 1/2 a yard filled with fallen leaves. Mulched about 5-6 bags down to ONE 40-gallon contractor bag.


P.S. The neighbors are now trained to leave their bagged up leaves on my driveway!

SUH-WEET--ER! Can you say, "curb service?"

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

I have been using the chips from tree companies for years.
The first year they were placed in the walkways to sheet compost. When the chips had decomposed I put the material in the beds and added more tree chips to the walkways.

Then I did not garden for a while, then re-landscaped. The soil from the old vegetable beds was very rich in organic matter, so I spread it all around. Grew a great lawn until there was water rationing.

Now I am getting started with raised beds again, and have filled them with chips. Too coarse to plant in directly, so I will pull the chips aside for each plant. I know that in just a few months the soil under the chips will start showing the benefit of the microorganisms working on the chips, and in less than a year my beds will be fully productive.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

What kinda "chips" are you using? Wood chips? Mine is called double grind pine bark. Is that what you're using?

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Our electric companies here hire tree-service people to keep tree limbs trimmed away from power lines. This being forested country, they work at it all the time - year-round when the weather allows. The crews cut branches and feed them into a big chipper on a trailer. The chipper blows chips into the dump truck that pulls the chipper trailer.

Often, when they're working nearby, I ask a crew to dump the chips on our property. They're happy to do that as it saves them a trip to wherever they usually dump when the truck is full, so I have several piles of wood chips of various ages to work from. These rot down to a nice black sawdust in 3 or 4 years, at least the middle of the pile does. Using my tractor bucket, I've carried and worked this compost into my garden soil for years with good results.

We have a lot of black walnut trees in this area, and at first I was afraid to use this compost in the garden because of the toxin walnuts carry. Apparently that toxin breaks down with time and composting, because I've had no problem with it.

Uncomposted, the wood chips are great for pathways and mulching around trees, though I don't put uncomposted chips in my garden soil. As you say, they work real well underfoot.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Wood plus patience equals great compost! And I really like the assembly line approach: this year, walkway, next year bed. Or first a pile, then walkways, then mulch, then turned under.

If you want to experiment with speeding it up, you might try top-dressing one of those piles with a little cheap nitrogen . Like a few cups of urea (46-0-0). It might cook down much faster than the other piles.

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

Mostly unidentified stuff from whatever jobs the tree company had.
Some parts were identifiable, when they work in the summer and some leaves or fruit make it through the chipper.
I have found:
Palm (Leaf ID)
Alder (ID by seed bearing cones)
Pine (Leaf ID)
Eucalyptus (not much, it can be toxic to other plants) (ID by the fragrance)
Fruitless Mulberry (Leaf ID)
And I know there were chips of Black Locust (Robinia) and Camphor (Cinnamomum) because they pruned those trees for me.

I suspect, but could not ID:
Black Walnut, or other deep brown wood that chipped into really nice, uniform, small chips.

Yes, adding N in almost any form will break it down faster. When I had the other vegetable beds I would add N, then cover with clear plastic in the winter for the warmth. (I should go do that now... we have had enough rain to thoroughly soak the new stuff)

Lexington, KY(Zone 6b)

Okay, so we've contracted with a tree service to take down an ash tree that is shading our
entire yard and is a candidate for the ash borer that is in our area now. The tree guy asked if I wanted some chips and I said yes. I was thinking of putting them in the compost pile, but from this discussion it looks like it might be a better idea to just use them for mulch. Right? I LOVE DAVE'S GARDEN!!! I learn so much from this website!!!

Post a Reply to this Thread

Please or sign up to post.