You can get boatloads of free mulch from ChipDrop; There’s just one problem


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Jun 23, 2023

You can get boatloads of free mulch from ChipDrop; There’s just one problem

A tree trimmer dropping off 25 yards (or more) of free wood chips in my front yard.Sean McDonnell, CLEVELAND, Ohio — There’s a free, easy way to get fresh wood chips delivered right to

A tree trimmer dropping off 25 yards (or more) of free wood chips in my front yard.Sean McDonnell,

CLEVELAND, Ohio — There’s a free, easy way to get fresh wood chips delivered right to your home. It’s called ChipDrop, and there’s just one catch.

You’re going to get way more than you’ll need.

I say that from experience after spending a Friday, Saturday and Sunday hauling mulch that was dumped on my front lawn. Even with two people working a combined 40 hours, and then more help from family members, the job isn’t done.

A tree trimmer brought me roughly 25 cubic yards — a full truck’s worth — of wood chips. For context, that’s equivalent to 450 of the bags you buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s.

It’s enough to mulch my front flower beds, the side of the house, two existing flower beds behind the house, two newly constructed flower beds I made just because, a compost bin and a pile next to the garden to use next year.

Did I mention the knee-high pile of wood chips behind my shed? There’s enough for that, too.

I still think it was a good idea. But I wouldn’t do it again. Here’s what you need to know:

ChipDrop is a website that matches homeowners who want mulch with arborists who need a place to dump wood chips (and logs). You get free mulch, and the tree-trimming company doesn’t have to drive to the dump.

According to the website, ChipDrop charges the companies dumping the wood chips $20. You can choose to tip $20 to cover their costs. You can even pay $40 or $60.

These are fresh, organic wood chips with no dye. You can’t order them in black or brown. You get whatever tree was shredded that day.

This has always been a thing. But instead of flagging down a tree care company or calling them, ChipDrop handles the transaction for you.

Inherently, this service has many pros and cons.

For perspective, this is what a boatload of mulch looks like, even hours after hauling some of it away. Sean McDonnell,

The main reason to use ChipDrop is that it’s free, or at least insanely discounted.

For comparison, buying one cubic yard of uncolored hardwood mulch in bulk costs about $28, depending on where you buy it. That’s about $700 for 25 yards before sales tax.

Getting dyed mulch in black or brown in bulk, for reference, is about $36 a yard — or $900 for 25 yards.

The 25 yards of wood chips I got were free, other than the $20 tip.

A home improvement store is also an option, if you’d rather buy mulch in bags.

Mulch is sold in bags in varying sizes, but you can find the 1.5 cubic yard bags on sale for $2. Since 18 bags make one cubic yard, that’s $36 a yard for dyed mulch. This is on par with the place that sell it in bulk — when it’s on sale.

Another huge perk is delivery. The landscaping supply companies will charge you anywhere from $100 to $150 for delivery. The tree trimmer brought wood chips right to my home for free.

ChipDrop is very upfront about its drawbacks, even making a video titled “Why ChipDrop Probably Is NOT For you.” Here are a cons.

• You cannot choose how many wood chips you get. They will drop off what they drop off, and you will be stuck with it.

• The mulch is undyed. Color varies depending on the species of tree, but you’ll likely get a light brown mulch that could turn gray over time.

• It’s dirty. Tree trimmers are shoving full branches into their wood chippers, so the mulch will have chewed up leaves and pine needles.

You may even get some trash, ChipDrop says. A tree trimmer may throw their fast-food bag or cup in the back of the truck. But this did not happen to me. And I think most people do their best to keep the woodchips clean if they know it’s being dropped off somewhere.

• There’s no notice. ChipDrop says once you’re on the list, a tree trimmer could stop by at any time. It could be today; it could be in seven weeks. And they may just leave the pile on your driveway.

• It’s not “double-shredded.” These chips are not broken-down multiple times like the mulch sold in stores. You will get bigger pieces and the occasional branch.

The woodchips from ChipDrop will have leaves, pine needles or other "extras" you may not be looking for.Sean McDonnell,

• Your ChipDrop may come with large logs. That’s free firewood or a pain to move, depending on your point of view. You can ask for no logs, but that makes you a worse candidate for tree trimmers who need a drop site.

• You can choose not to accept certain trees. Some trees, like black walnut, can have chemicals that are harmful to plants.

• Tipping the driver, according to other ChipDrop users online, speeds up your delivery.

ChipDrop is great for two kinds of people; gardeners and people who are mulching their whole home for the first time.

The first time you mulch a flower bed you should put down two to three inches of wood chips, maybe even more. For a homeowner who has neglected mulching, this can be great.

Gardeners can often find ways to use lots of mulch, whether between raised beds, in pathways or around the plants themselves. There are fierce debates about how to use mulch in the garden, and I will remain neutral, but suffice to say that the material is useful.

If you have a chicken coop or a backyard swing set, a one-time delivery of wood chips could also be great.

I would not use ChipDrop a second time, because the second time you need less mulch. It would be hard, if not impossible, to find a way to use 25 yards of mulch again.

I should specify that I have a relatively small yard. Someone with an acre of more with a garden and flower beds might need a dump truck worth of wood chips every year.

If your home needs a ton of landscaping work, ChipDrop may be a good option for you.Julie Galek

Many readers would love to get free wood chips but can’t handle 25 yards of it. The next best option is picking it up at your local park or from some communities.

The Cleveland Metroparks, for example, offers free wood chips at a number of locations on a first come, first serve basis. You can find this free mulch at:

• Bedford Reservation: Astorhurst parking lot off of Dunham Road

• Bradley Woods Reservation: Parking lot

• Brecksville Reservation: Brecksville Maintenance entrance

• Hinckley Reservation: Parking lot of Bellus Road

• North Chagrin Reservation: Whispering Woods Picnic Area parking lot

• Rocky River Reservation: Parking lot south of Lorain Road overpass off Valley Parkway

• South Chagrin Reservation: Horse trailer parking lot at the bottom of Sulphur Springs near Miles Road

• Mill Stream Run Reservation: Parking lot at the split of Eastland and Valley Parkway

These chips come primarily from tree trimming throughout the parks after storms, said Jeff Tolman, a spokesman for the Cleveland Metroparks. He said guests should never take wood from other areas of the park system.

Unsplit firewood is occasionally available for the public at these locations as well.

Logs and tree trunks left in other parts of the park are meant to be there so that they can decay, make homes for wildlife and keep the general ecosystem healthy.

The great thing about this option is that you can take as many or as little wood chips as you need, depending on if they’re available that day.

The bad thing is that you need a truck, and you’ll need to load up the truck yourself and unload it once you get home.

Some municipalities also have free wood chip programs for residents. This will vary from town to town.

Saving You Money is and The Plain Dealer’s column about saving money. We want to know how we can help you save money. Send your questions and comments to [email protected].

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