Natural wood chips, sawdust, or pine needles are often an excellent choice for weed suppression. In the Fall, they can be tilled under to improve the quality of the soil as they decompose.
Decomposition is a process that is necessary to prevent the accumulation of waste materials. It occurs in many successive stages and involves both abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) factors. Wind and water are examples of abiotic agents of decomposition. Water draws the most readily available carbon sources from decaying plant material, while wind breaks the wood chips into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces of wood expose greater surface area for subsequent agents of decomposition to act upon. The biotic agents of decomposition vary from one material to the next depending on the material’s chemical structure. Biotic agents of decomposition include various invertebrates, worms, fungi and bacteria. These agents contribute to the process of decomposition by physically and chemically breaking the plant material down.
As one organism utilizes the resources available at a particular stage of decomposition, successive organisms are suited to use what remains of the decomposing plant material. As each group of decomposers extracts what they need from the decaying material, remaining nutrients are returned to the soil.
Many examples of ecological succession exist in nature. A familiar example is that of secondary succession of a forest.