Last Modified: April 3, 2024

How to Use Bark Chippings

Guide To Natural Garden Mulching

Bark chipping path in a garden

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


In this guide you will learn how to use decorative bark chippings, and bark mulch, as a way of suppressing weeds, protecting your soils and plants roots whilst making your beds and borders look naturally amazing.

Oh, and have you noticed our new 'Pebble Picker' feature, located in the sidebar or menu? This tool allows you to select and browse every decorative aggregate, by colour and material, with ease.

Applying bark mulch to a garden border

Key Takeaways

  • Benefits: Include improving moisture retention, suppress weeds, and temperature regulation.
  • Applications: From a children's play area, through to reptiles terrariums and natural pathways, there are many to choose from.
  • Seasonal Applications: Apply at different times of the year to achieve different outcomes.
  • Applying Mulch: There are some important considerations when using as a mulch.
Bark chippings mulch with ornamental grass

What Are Bark Chippings?

First and foremost, we need to define what we're talking about. Bark and wood chippings, also known as wood chip or composted bark mulch, are small pieces of tree bark that are the waste products from timber mills, and furniture production, which have been chipped or shredded.

They are a popular material in gardens and outdoor design, due to their natural beauty, versatility and due to the raft of benefits they confer on to soil and plant life.

Types of Bark Chippings

Bark chippings come in many varieties, from various tree species, and each type brings different benefits. Pine, cedar, cypress, and other hardwood trees are among the most common types used in gardens. Each type has a unique texture, colour and decomposition rate, making each one uniquely suitable for different uses and preferences.

Natural bark chippings close up


Bark chips provide multiple benefits in gardening, including moisture retention, weed control, temperature regulation, soil enrichment, protection of plant roots and visual enhancement.

Helps Soil Retain Moisture

When used as a mulch surface, bark can play a vital role in helping soil retain moisture. It creates a protective layer that reduces evaporation in the scorching sun, and moderates soil temperature, ensuring moisture retention.

Natural Weed Control

Bark chips as a ground cover suppresses weed growth, depriving weeds of sunlight, by providing a physical barrier. The same physical barrier also impedes weed seeds from reaching the soil to take root and grow. The addition of a landscaping fabric weed membrane can make this an extremely durable and hard wearing ground cover that will keep weeds at bay for a long time.

Natural pine nugget mulch in a landscaped garden

Temperature Regulation and Soil Enrichment

Bark chippings provide a natural layer of protection which helps to regulate soil temperature while protecting plant roots. By laying the right amount of mulch in your garden, you can achieve greater growth by making conditions more conducive.

Also, as an organic matter, bark is slow to decompose, and will gradually release nutrients into the soil over time encouraging more beneficial soil organisms. Their natural appearance also adds texture and beauty to gardens, beds and borders.

Erosion Control

A correctly installed bark chipping ground cover can be an effective solution for trying to control soil erosion from rain water, particularly on slopes. The bark reduces the impact of raindrops as they hit the soil surface, slowing the run off and allowing more time for the water to gradually and effectively permeate into the soil surface.

Environmental Impact of Bark Chippings

Bark chippings are not only organic material not only beneficial for your garden but also have a positive impact on the environment. Aside from reducing the amount of water plants need, they also minimise the need for the use of chemical herbicides in weed control.

Laying landscaping bark wearing gardening gloves

How to Use Bark Chippings

Understanding how to use bark chippings correctly will help to maximise the benefits. The method of application will depend on your specific needs and the area of your garden where you intend to use them.

Seasonal Advantages

Bark chippings can be used year-round, but they offer particular benefits in specific seasons. In early to late spring, and summer, they can help retain soil moisture, and keep the already moist soil below cool, while in late winter and early spring, they can protect plant roots from freezing temperatures.

Red coloured chippings in a pot with a conifer

Preparation Before Laying Bark Chippings

Before applying decorative bark mulch chippings, it's essential to prepare the area properly. Removing any weeds and levelling the surface are the minimum, but you may also wish to lay a weed control fabric as well.

Garden bark on heavy duty weed membrane

Applying Bark Mulch in Your Garden

As with all mulches there are some tips for getting the most out of your bark mulch. Here are the best practices:

  1. 1
    As with using all mulches, exercise caution not to cover herbaceous perennials or small bulbs.
  2. 2
    Avoid allowing the organic matter to make direct contact with the base of tree trunks or shrubs, as it can create a damp, low-oxygen environment that may foster disease. Leave an 8-10cm (3-4") gap.
  3. 3
    It's advisable to mulch your beds in early spring, before annual weeds establish themselves, for optimal results in weed suppression.
  4. 4
    Woody mulches can be applied at any time of the year, but refrain from mulching dry soils.
  5. 5
    Bark chippings, due to their larger particles, are less likely to compact and can be applied at a greater depth, approximately 8-12cm (3-5"). In contrast, traditional composted organic mulches like garden compost or well-rotted manure are best applied at a depth of 5-7.5cm (2-3").
Diy wood chippings garden bed

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

Common Applications


Mulching with bark and wood chippings is one of the most common uses due to their numerous benefits for plant growth, plant roots and the soil. As a mulch, they help helps soil retain moisture, regulate soil temperature and prevent weeds from taking hold.


Bark chippings are an excellent choice for the creation of natural pathways, because they are soft underfoot, suppress weeds and drain naturally due to their permeable nature. Whilst they are organic and will decompose over time, they generally will last for 5 to 7 years.

Bark mulch around spring bulbs
Diy woodchip path with timber edging

Play Areas

Due to the soft, shock-absorbent nature, play bark is a common choice as a safety play surface in children's play areas. When installed correctly, they provide protection from a critical full height, while blending in well with the natural surroundings.

However it is important to choose chippings that meet the BS EN 1176 standard, and also to check that the area is free from sharp splinters after installing in a play area.

Flower Beds

Using bark chips on your flower beds not only provides your plants with the benefits of mulch, but it can also add a texture and contrast that will make those big blooms stand out all the more vibrantly when they flower.

1play bark in an outdoor play area
1landscaped garden with pine mulch


They make a great materials for the floors in terrariums, especially for reptiles and amphibians. They help create a natural environment and aid in moisture and heat regulation. However, because they can sometimes be produced from chemically treated pallets, it is vital to ensure they are free from any harmful substances.


Bark mulch is a low maintenance decorative aggregates that will continue to serve its purpose and looks good for many years. There is a small amount of maintenance which involves occasional top ups, raking to achieve an even coverage, and the removal of weeds.

In general, a fresh layer of bark chippings should be added every 1 to 3 years, depending on the specific conditions of your garden and your own preference.

1raking a bark chip garden

Where to Buy Bark Chippings

They are widely available in hardware stores, garden centres and online. They are generally available in bulk bags, which can save you a lot of money, especially if you are using large quantities of the materials.

Like all bark products, not all bark chips are made from the same materials or created equal. There are quality standards which can help guide you, but it is always important to make sure of the origin, especially if you are using it for young plants or around children's play areas.

1bulk bag of barkchip


By now you should have a much better idea on how to use bark chippings, from the applications they are best suited to right through to best way to apply them in your garden. They are one of the most sustainable of the outdoor aggregates, conferring wonderful benefits onto your garden in most situations, and they get a huge thumbs up from our team.

1close up of textured bark on a pine tree


How do I choose the right type of bark chippings for my garden?

Choosing the right type things for your garden depends on the purpose they are being utilised for, as well as your own preferences. Consider the specific needs of your plants and whether you are using them to serve a practical purpose or whether they are for decorative purposes as well.

Are bark chippings safe for all plants?

Not quite. Garden bark chippings are generally safe for most plants, although using it as a mulch around young plants can be detrimental to their growth, depending on the type of plant.

Also, one of the most common types, pine bark, tends to make the soil more acidic as it decomposes, which can benefit acid-loving plants but may not be suitable for plants that prefer neutral to alkaline soil.

Can bark chippings attract pests?

There is some debate about this, but in general they are not seen as encouraging to pests. Some people believe that they actually deter slugs and snails.

Can I use bark chippings in a vegetable garden?

Yes! Bark chippings are excellent for vegetable gardens. They help the soil retain moisture well, suppress weed growth, and improve soil health—all of which contribute to more productive vegetable plantings.

How often should I replace bark chippings?

The frequency for replacing loose coverings and bark chippings with bare soil can depend on the type of chippings and the specific conditions of the bare soil and heavy soil used in your garden. Generally, you should expect to add a thick layer of a fresh layer every one to three years as the bark decomposes.

Can I use bark chippings from any type of tree?

Some types of tree bark may be more suitable than others. For example, cedar and cypress wood chips are long-lasting and have a pleasant aroma, while pine bark breaks down faster and can help acidify soil.

There are many wonderful types of wood chippings products available for your play area or mulching needs. Check 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.