Last Modified: April 3, 2024

Play Area Bark vs. Garden Bark

Are all Natural barks the same?

Outdoor bark play area

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Play area bark, otherwise known as playground bark, is a well-graded, pine bark-based decorative aggregate that is widely used. When certified, it is suitable for use around all play equipment, including climbing frames and slides, when it is laid to the correct minimum depth.

Garden bark is a generic term that can cover many types and grades of bark product that may not meet the stringent requirements of British standards required for fall safety protection. We cover the differences in this article about play area safety bark.

Just a quick message regarding our newest addition – the 'Pebble Picker' tool – now accessible in the sidebar or menu. It facilitates effortless browsing and selection of decorative aggregates, categorised by colour and type.

Close up of wood compost

Key Takeaways

  • Safety: Playground bark ensures safety with its specially designed surface. Garden bark may or may not be suitable.
  • Aesthetics: Play bark chippings create a beautiful play area that brings children closer to nature.
  • Depth: Compare the minimum depth for fall safety of play bark against alternatives.
  • Calculate: Use an online calculator to estimate your coverage with accuracy.
Close up of play bark

Play Grade Bark vs. Regular Garden Bark

Play safe bark is a type of bark for play surfaces which must meet the requirements of BS EN 1176. It is generally free from hardwood chip. As a Loose Impact Absorbing Surface (LIAS), it must be applied with a layer thickness exceeding the amount determined through testing to attain the specified critical fall height. We provide the regulation depths, below.

Play Grade Bark

Generally speaking, play-grade bark is a hard-wearing pine-based material graded to a finer density in order to make it more impact-resistant. This is by design to ensure a softer, safer environment that's suitable for children. It is also screened to remove as many sharp pieces and dust for increased safety. Bark is also a natural product, giving it an advantage over recycled rubber play bark where potential toxicity from leachates are a concern for parents.

We have a dedicated play bark product page that provides a deep dive into the various products available for purchase. Any brand of bark product we recommend will always display its certification for everyone's peace of mind.

Natural wood see saw in a garden

Regular Garden Bark

On the other hand, garden bark is a general term for a bark material primarily used for mulching and decorative purposes. In the linked article, we attempt to demystify the different types of bark mulch available. However, there are products retailed as 'garden bark' that may also be compliant and safely used for play areas.

While it is also true that bark may NOT have to be compliant in order to be used safely for play areas, it is safest to use play grade bark, and we only recommend it for play areas. Therefore, the use of any other type of bark is solely at the parent's discretion.

Bark mulching in a garden

Playground Surface Depth Safety Chart

A certified play bark safety surface can mean the difference between an innocent accident and a fall that results in a critical injury. There are critical fall height guidelines to follow when using bark chips for play area safety surfaces. Please check the highest point of your playground equipment and select the depth which corresponds to play bark.








Wood chips




Play bark




Engineered wood fibre




Fine sand




Coarse sand




Fine gravel




Medium gravel




Taken from page 5 of 'The Handbook For Playground Safety'.

*For the uncompressed depth of each material.

Other Applications for Play Area Bark

Using playground bark for play surfaces can mean the difference between safety and peril when the inevitable falls occur. However, it can also be used around the garden for mulching and decorative purposes.

Garden Borders and Flower Beds

Play area bark isn't just useful in play areas. They can also be used in flower beds and borders, too. Bark chippings for play areas aid in moisture retention and also suppress weeds, making them very helpful in all of these applications. Aside from these benefits, the play area bark chips will also nourish your soil and improve soil structure as they slowly break down. In most cases, this means that your plants will thrive.

However, it is important to keep in mind that pine bark is generally acidic, rating between 4.5-5.5 pH. This means that certain alkaline soil loving plants may have their growth stunted, depending on many factors. So, our advice is to keep an eye out, and occasionally monitor the soil pH around such plants.

Installing a wood chipping garden border

Purchasing Playground Bark

These days, getting play grade bark delivered at a great price has never been easier. Most online suppliers will offer a delivery services that ensure your bulk bark arrives conveniently and quickly. Whether it's for play areas or soft borders, check out the local delivery options and competitive prices to be certain your needs can be met. (Feature coming soon)

Close up of rope on a climbing frame. Jpg

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


Using play area bark for safety surfaces has been a popular choice for decades now. Not only can they provide a minimum level of fall safety, but as a natural product, they also work wonders for your child's well-being and the outdoor environment. While there are many other types of decorative aggregates used in play areas today, play bark remains a safe and beautiful alternative without any of the issues around chemical toxicity and environmental concerns.

Play area hardwood safety surface. Jpg


Do I need membrane under bark chippings?

Using a heavy duty weed membrane under playground bark is recommended. It prevents weeds and ensures the safety bark remains in place.

How much play bark do I need?

The amount depends on the play area, size and desired depth. Usually, a minimum depth of 15cm is recommended for a bark chips playground.

What's the difference between play bark and normal bark?

Play bark is specially designed for safety and durability, ideal for play areas. Normal bark materials may not have these specialised features.

Is using bark a good idea?

It's entirely a matter of preference. Compliant, playground bark chippings are a great product for play area safety as well as garden health.

What kind of bark do you use for play area?

Play grade bark is the best choice due to its safety and durability features.

Is bark good for play areas?

Yes, play area bark is good for play areas when used at the correct depth. They provide an excellent safety surface which is natural and also looks beautiful.

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.