Last Modified: April 3, 2024

Coloured Bark

The Pros and Cons of a Mulch With Attitude

Red dyed bark

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


For many gardeners, the appeal of coloured bark's vibrant hues have made them a popular decorative aggregate for both indoor and outdoor applications. The good news is that using bark as a decorative mulch does more than just enhance aesthetics, it can play a leading role in improving soil conditions and protecting plant roots, all while serving as an efficient weed suppressor. But, how do they make these colourful chippings, and are they safe?

In this article, we cover all of that and more, including how to most effectively lay them and what to look out for when purchasing them for your project.

Oh, and don't forget to check out our 'Pebble Picker' tool, found in the sidebar or menu. This handy feature enables easy browsing and comparison of diverse decorative aggregates by colour and type.

Terracotta wood chippings around a growing sapling. Jpg

Key Takeaways

  • Versatility: So many aesthetically pleasing colours make them suitable to many applications.
  • All-In-One: Bark offers a raft of great benefits for you and your plants.
  • Safety: There is no evidence about toxicity from dyes - the dangers are in the type of wood or bark used.
  • Low-maintenance: Proper application can maximise bark's lifespan and efficacy as a ground cover.
Natural mulch in a garden bed being placed by hand. Jpg

Benefits of Coloured Bark Chippings

Bark has been used for improving the aesthetics and health of gardens long before the advent of coloured mulch. Next we take a look at the benefits of using coloured bark mulch.

Red coloured bark chippings with a natural rock border. Jpg

So Mulch Colour!

Think of whatever colour tickles your fancy and there will likely be a decorative bark in your colour. From light coloured bark chippings to eye-catching rustic red bark mulch and black bark chips, there are so many options available to you these days, including:

  • Black bark chippings
  • Red bark chippings
  • Brown
  • Orange
  • Blue
  • Grey
  • Green
  • and so on..
A landscaped garden bed with rows of bark mulch in natural red and dark brown

A Superior Type of Mulch

Bark is a superior type of mulch, performing the following tasks required for happy healthy plants, with minimal work:

  1. 1
    Weed Suppression: Acts as an effective barrier, reducing weed growth, minimising the need for constant weeding.
  2. 2
    Moisture Retention: Chipped bark locks in condensation, helping plants to retain moisture, reducing the frequency of watering and ensuring a more consistent moisture level for plants.
  3. 3
    Temperature Regulation: Provides insulation to protect plant roots from direct sunlight and extreme weather conditions, such as the heat in summer and cold in winter.
  4. 4

    Soil Erosion Control: It helps prevent erosion by stabilising the topsoil and reducing the impact of rainfall or wind.

  5. 5
    Nutrient Enrichment: As it slowly decomposes, it adds organic matter to the soil, improving its fertility and structure.

There really is no limit, other than your imagination. However, there is an aspect of safety that needs to be covered, especially where food crops, children or pets are likely to come into contact with your bark feature.

Natural red pine wood close up

Hidden Dangers in Coloured Landscape Mulches?

In the world of landscaping, coloured garden bark and wood mulches are used for their aesthetic qualities, but they can carry hidden risks. The following is a list of important considerations related to the safety of coloured wood chippings and coloured bark mulch:

  • Dyes used for colouring mulch include carbon-based and iron oxide-based dyes, with no evidence suggesting their toxicity.
  • Mulch from recycled wood is often visually unappealing driving the need for colouring.
  • Coloured landscape mulches primarily use recycled wood materials due to their ability to absorb colouring agents.
  • Recycled wood sources often include wood scraps, pallets, and reclaimed wood from construction and demolition waste.
  • Contamination risks arise from recycled wood, with chemicals like creosote and CCA (chromated copper arsenate) being potential contaminants. CCA-treated wood from construction and demolition waste is a significant source of contamination.
  • Not all coloured mulches are contaminated, but consumers should inquire about the wood source and contact environmental testing labs if concerned.
Red bark mulch around pink and purple flowers in a garden border

In summary, the use of recycled wood in coloured landscape mulches risks contamination from chemicals like CCA, under-scoring the importance of verifying the origin of sources or conducting testing to ensure the safety of coloured mulch products, especially around food crops, pets or children.

Need to work out how much playbark your play area or mulching  project needs? Use our free bark calculator.

Importance of Correct Storage

Most landscaping materials, including coloured bark, are susceptible to degradation. That's why it is best to avoid exposing them to garden chemicals which can leech out their vibrant dyes. Thus, storing in a cool and dry place ensures they retain their aesthetic and functional qualities in all weather conditions.

Laying red bark chips in a garden border. Jpg

Mulching Flower Beds & Borders

Flower beds usually serve as focal points that draw the eye and attention subconsciously. Keeping them looking their best requires constant maintenance. However, there is a sure fire, easy way to brighten up untidy beds and create low-maintenance landscaping projects, without all of the weeding. Spread bark chippings - it's the perfect backdrop!

Ideal for top dressing beds, flower beds adorned with a layer of coloured bark can be enhanced greatly by the contrast in colour and textures. The layer also acts as a garden mulch, providing all of the aforementioned benefits. Landscaping fabric will add to the longevity of your bed or border.

Natural pine nuggets mulch

Lay Weed Barrier Fabric

The most effective way to prevent weeds is to first lay weed barrier landscaping fabric. The best base for conserving vital moisture on your borders, landscaping fabric, can be placed under your decorative bark and directly onto the soil or sub base. Optimal landscaping fabric usage starts with clearing any existing weeds, levelling the soil, and meticulously laying out the fabric to ensure there are no gaps have been laid.

You can get the know-how for achieving a professional finish from our step-by-step guide on how to lay bark chippings.

Laying heavy duty weed membrane

Bark Delivered

Several online suppliers offer wide ranges of decorative bark, from red bark and mixed conifer through to verve red wood chip mulch, and arranging prompt delivery is just a click away. Although it can be hard to find detailed product specifications, instructions about how to achieve even coverage depth are usually on the packaging.

Bark colour red chipping mulch around a garden path


Coloured bark offers great value considering its multipurpose utility in gardens and wide range of colours. However, wherever you have plans to use them around food crops, pets or children, factors including the source of recycled wood and contamination risks requires attention in order to verify source origins to ensure the safety. Clear labelling regarding the origins should be demanded of suppliers, but at this point, they do not seem to be a regulated requirement.

1pink grasses and conifers growing in purple shredded mulch


Is coloured play bark safe?

Yes, coloured play bark is safe, as long as the product is certified, and therefore meets the BS EN 1176 standards for child safety. The dyes used for coloured mulch in the UK are non-toxic, so there shouldn't be any problems.

Can you get coloured bark?

Yes, search for 'coloured mulch uk', and you will find coloured bark is available in a spectrum of shades.

Is decorative bark safe for dogs?

Most decorative barks are pet-friendly, but it's always best to inspect the product details to ensure there are no harmful additives.

Will bark chippings stop weeds?

Bark chippings will stop weeds best if you also lay landscaping fabric, by obstructing sunlight and preventing weed seeds from germinating.

How much will 100 Litres of bark cover?

Typically, a 100-litre bag covers 1-2 square meters, varying with the desired application depth.

What are the disadvantages of bark chippings?

Over time, bark chippings may decompose, necessitating occasional replenishment. They retain moisture and might also attract certain insects if not treated or stored properly.

What is eco bark mulch?

Eco bark mulch is a generic name that is often used for both traditional bark and rubber bark mulch. The name does not give much of a clue to the environmentally friendly nature of the material.

Are red wood chips a good mulch?

Certainly. Red wood chips are both visually appealing and functional, adept at moisture retention and weed suppression.

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.