Perhaps the most common mulch used by yardeners around landscape plants and beds is wood chips; usually purchased from the local garden center or home center. Wood chips are attractive because they tend to last longer than chopped leaves. The tradeoff is that while they last longer, they provide less food to the earthworms and soil microbes over time. Wood chips are still organic matter and if you only use wood chips, the soil health will improve over the years, but probably at half the rate of chopped leaves or peat moss.
Local vs. Imported Wood Chips
When you buy shredded bark or wood chips from the garden center, much of it comes from the waste of the lumber industry in the southern part of the U.S. Another source, seldom used by yardeners, is wood chips from your local landscape contractor or tree company. These local wood chips have two benefits. First they are usually free and second they have local beneficial microbes from the leaves that are included in with the chips. Those local microbes will incorporate themselves on to your landscape plants and into your soil more readily than will any microbes still attached to the chips imported from the southern lumber industry.
Share The Wealth
Often a landscape company is willing to give your free wood chips, but the deal is that you usually must take a whole truck load which may be more chips than you need at one time. In those cases, find two or three neighbors also interested in some free wood chips and the truck load of chips will disappear in a week or two as they are spread on a number of home landscapes in your neighborhood.