Last Modified: April 3, 2024

Natural Bark for Play Areas

Play Bark Vs wooden Play Chip

A swing in a park with a little girl

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Children's play areas can be a wondrous and safe place where kids can learn many rudimentary skills, from play right through to a sense of balance. The surfaces can be constructed of many materials, ranging from natural to synthetic. One such natural material is play bark, a decorative aggregate specifically produced for the purpose from tree bark. Certified play bark undergoes screening to ensure a level of quality that guarantees a soft and safe ground cover suitable for play area flooring. Its natural appearance also adds beauty to playgrounds while offering a non-toxic option that performs a range of functional purposes.

In this article, we cover the basics of using natural play bark as a play surface, and compare it to wood play chips, a common alternative.

A quick heads-up regarding our freshly introduced tool, the 'Pebble Picker', accessible in the sidebar or menu. It streamlines the task of viewing and comparing decorative aggregates, organised by colour and type, for your convenience.

Climbing frame over natural bark chipa

Key Takeaways

  • Safety: Kids play bark cushions falls, making play areas safer for children.
  • Alternatives: Hardwood play chips are a popular alternative to play bark.
  • Aesthetics: Offers play areas a natural, appealing look.
  • Maintenance: Regular upkeep ensures bark's longevity and cleanliness.
Climbing frame structure with bark nuggets safety surface

Play Grade Bark vs. Regular Bark

The best bark for play areas generally cannot be regular garden bark. Play grade bark chippings are designed for play surfaces in schools help to ensure a safer environment for children, especially around play equipment.

Play Bark Chippings

Usually screened to 10mm for minimising splinters and the potential for harm caused by large pieces, it must pass stringent play bark uk safety testing to 'make the grade'. During testing, it must pass all the requirements of BS EN 1176 standards. It also has a capacity for moisture retention that keeps the texture softer and reduces areas from becoming muddy.

Play grade bark close up

Garden Bark Play Surfaces

Regular bark garden mulch is best for gardens and flower beds, so unless it is tested (and certified) there is child friendly garden bark for playgrounds. This leaves play grade bark, with its superior safety rating, the clear winner for use in play areas.

Close up of natural bark chippings

Need to work out how much play bark your play area project needs? Use our free bark and wood chip calculator.

Hardwood Chip vs. Play Bark

While both types of playground chips, hardwood play chip and play bark, offer similar safety benefits, hardwood chips tend to be more hard wearing. However, soft bark chippings are generally able to provide a slightly 'better' cushion for falls. Both are quite effective at minimising mud to keep kids' clothing cleaner.

Hardwood chips close up

Critical Fall Height Safety

Whatever the type of chips playground surfaces are made from, ensuring the correct depth of wood chips for playground critical fall height safety is vitally important. For public play surface it's a regulation - for domestic purposes it's about making play safer by reducing injury from falls.

Hardwood safety surface beneath a swing

Moisture Retention

Wood chip and bark have varying levels of moisture retention. Soft bark for playgrounds offers an advantage as a surface because it's softer than hardwood and doesn't dry out as quickly, which is especially beneficial during those sunny summer days. However, it is important to manage your playbark to minimise the chance of mold or fungus growing in excessive damp.

Play park made of natural wood

Colour & Appearance

Play areas adorned with children's play bark, whether play chip or bark, bring a natural vibe that makes them visually appealing. Just as wood chips can come in a variety of colours, different tree barks offer various, darker shades, ranging from deep browns to gold. Generally, play wood chips are brighter colours.

Fresh chipped tree. Jpg

Installation of Play Bark

When using bark or wood chips, there are many aspects to consider, such as the installation of a heavy duty weed membrane to maintain good drainage and keep weeds at bay. We have articles dedicated to using wood chips for play area surfaces, as well as step-by-step, DIYer guide on how to lay wood chips for a playground.

1landscaping bark on heavy duty weed membrane


Regular raking and topping up play bark chippings ensures longevity while maintaining fall height safety depth. Periodic checks of the bark and soil for changes, contaminants or foreign materials is also key.

1raking bark chippings

Buying Play Grade Bark for Play Areas

In this section we cover the aspects of purchasing bark chippings for play area design and construction.

Cheap Wood Chips for Playground

The desire to get something delivered for the cheapest price is real, and often necessary. However, there are key considerations for child safety. It begins with using a great product that can be certified 'play grade', because it meets the standards of BS EN 1176.

Natural bark climbing frame. Jpg

How Much Bark do I Need for Play Area Flooring?

Generally, you will need a layer between 15-30 cm deep for play area surfacing. A way to save money is by accurately estimating the quantity of play bark required to adequately cover the area.

Measure up the area, consider the required depth, and put the dimensions into our helpful online wood chip calculator. It will give you an accurate result and even tell you how many bulk bags you will need, based on a standard bag size. Arranging your bark delivery from their is a cinch.

Girl standing in a park image by kamiel choi from


Play bark wood chippings must meet the standards to be used in play areas. It's about safety, aesthetics, and functionality. Whether it's playground play bark, certified for safety, or hardwood play chip, making informed decisions is vital when creating your own, safe play environment.

1textured bark on a tree close up


What bark is best for play area?

Certified play grade bark, designed and tested specifically for play areas, ensures maximum fall safety and functionality.

Can I use any bark for a play area?

While any bark may be used, it's advisable to use play grade bark or hardwood playchip for safety purposes.

How do you bark a play area?

It is an involved process which we cover in a separate article. In short, you must prepare the ground, lay a membrane, add the chippings and then spread it evenly to a consistent, minimum depth. Maintain it with regular raking and top-ups.

Is wood chip or bark better for play area?

Both have their merits. Hardwood chip is durable, while play grade bark offers softer cushioning, making it slightly more ideal for falls.

There are many other varieties of wood chippings available for your project. Check out them out!

About the author 

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.