I was thrilled by a recent acquisition of shredded/chipped/mulched trees from a contractor removing storm-damaged neighborhood trees, but now I am second guessing its value. I know some of the trees were healthy; others, I have no idea. Does this material need to be treated? Is it (a treatment) something a homeowner can do? If not, what does one do with 5 or 6 yards?!
There are two negatives that come when you take free wood chips from trees that you are not familiar with, both of which are fairly easily remedied at no cost to you. The first problem is that if the tree had any soilborne disease such as verticillium wilt, which can be found in some maple trees, the wood chips from that tree can spread the disease to your soil as well. The other potential problem is that freshly chipped material, as well as material that includes a lot of leaves in it, takes a lot of nitrogen from your soil to aid in the breaking-down process that all organic mulches go through during a season.
To remedy these problems, treat your new mulch as a pile of compost for part of the year. If you can find an area in your yard to store the 5 yards throughout the winter and early spring, go ahead and place it there. The mulch will continue to break down while it is stored in a pile. This composting process produces quite a bit of heat within the pile. Not only does the process of composting reduce the need for the mulch to consume nitrogen from your soil, the heat from the pile kills off many of the organisms that can cause diseases within your newly mulched garden.