Popular in all sorts of garden designs, bark and wood chippings have many purposes. In pots, borders and pathways there are plenty of ways to use bark in the garden.
• Suppress weeds
• Can be purchased at any garden retailer
• Look attractive
• Make beds and borders easier to maintain
• Can be used in pots, tubs and even hanging baskets
• Provide a good mulch and help retain water for plants and shrubs
• Compost slowly, so they only need topping up occasionally
In the border
Bark and wood chippings provide a natural barrier against weeds. You need to lay it about 5cm deep, so check your measurements to make sure you buy enough material to cover the desired area.
A layer of chippings will also protect plant roots from frost damage in winter or scorching sun in summer.
Also, it will act as a mulch to retain moisture in the soil, keeping a healthy environment for your precious plants. Make sure the material is suitable for mulching and not fresh chippings, which will suck nitrogen from the soil around the plants.
Chips also look great when you glimpse the tidy spaces between shrubs and plants in a border.
In the pots
The chips come in different sizes and smaller chippings are great in pots and tubs. They keep weeds down and moisture levels up – meaning less watering during summer. Make sure the chippings are not fresh or they will draw out all the nitrogen in the soil.
They will compost down, but it’s a slow process and you shouldn’t need to top up often.
This process also enriches and aerates the soil. Bark chips also stimulate plant growth as mulched plants and trees grow faster than un-mulched!
On the path
Chippings are also an excellent alternative to more expensive hard pathway materials like paving or gravel. Giving a different texture and look to the garden and are durable and low maintenance.
If you use bark chippings for pathways, lay a membrane between the soil and the chippings. Use sheets of polythene or plastic. Punch holes through at roughly 30cm intervals for drainage. There are various grades of weed suppressant fabrics which are ideal for this purpose.
Lay a path of bark chippings about 10cm deep, so when you prepare the ground make sure the base is deep enough. There are plenty of different wood chip shades, so you should be able to find one to enhance your garden beautifully.
What to buy
You can buy bark and wood chippings at all good garden centres. Reputable retailers will ensure the wood comes from a renewable source – this should be clearly labelled on the packaging. Look for FSC Certified (Forest Stewardship Council) which guarantees that the wood and bark is responsibly sourced.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
We are looking seriously to reduce weeds in our garden as we are now in our 70s.and are interested in bark and wood chippings. The front garden measures roughly 25 x 12 yds, say just under 300 sq ydas. We have looked at the wood chippings produced by local tree surgeons and it is too full of large chunks of wood for us. Your website shows a darker more attractive product. Where would we get this in Guernsey where we live and is it viable. Look forward to hearing from you regards
Hi Tony, I’m afraid the image is a stock one for illustration, rather than a specific product, so I can’t help you with the name of its supplier. For dark bark, you need to look for composted bark chips, which have a darker colour. Some suppliers will also specify the size range of the chips in mm. I would recommend trying garden or DIY suppliers rather than tree surgeons. Good luck, David.
Are YEW tree bark chips suitable? I want to mulch around my pear and plum trees. I have lots available but there seems to be some question about suitability due to toxins etc.
Yew chippings are mostly used for paths, not advised for food crops because it is toxic if ingested.
I understand, but will the toxins enter the food chain thro` the tree roots and into the fruit?
I obviously will not be eating fruit that has fallen on the bark chippings.
how long would it take for weeds to grow through a layer 10cm of bark chippings with and without a plastic sheet. thanks
I have an wide path area at side of house which at the moment is covered in gravel but looks very messy . Most of the gravel has disappeared and there are many weeds coming through. The area is very shady and has numerous drains. I was thinking of covering with bark chippings .Please advise.
I am interested in using bark or wood chip to help suppress weeds, but am wondering what effect it will have on bulbs that are yet to grow?
We recently had a large poplar in our garden cut down to a manageable size and I’m planning to hire a chipper and spread it across the borders as mulch. My only concern, is will this encourage midgies and other pests?
Hi Nathaneal, Mulch shouldn’t encourage any pests.
I’m always looking for ways to improve my garden, so it helps to know how wood chips can help with that. It’s interesting that they’re supposed to suppress weed growth, make beds and borders easier to maintain, and can be a good form of mulch and retain water for plants and shrubs. My plants have been having a weed problem lately, so maybe using wood chips would be a good way to address that. Thanks for the information!
We have recently put the wood chips from leylandi trees taken down around some new red robin bushes and also old established rose bushes. The new rose shoots are curling up and the red robins are looking very sad……..is this to do with the wood chips ? Will they recover ?
Hi there, I wanted to put wood chips down under my children’s playground equipment. Should I be concerned about any toxic chemicals or other ingredients in the chips?
You should be safe from chemicals, but best to go for Play Bark chippings if you can. For bark to be classed as Play Bark, it must have been tested to comply with the standard: BS EN 1177:1998.
The other option is Play Grade Woodchip. Woodchip starts out a little rougher than Play Bark, but soon softens down. It also dries quicker and lasts longer.
is it essential to put a fleece or paper or whatever first ?
No, not essential, but do be sure to weed thoroughly!
Hi I have an ugly concrete strip at the back of my garden. I was thinking of laying some areas of gravel and placing pots there. Would the woodchip be a good alternative to add some interest.
Woodchip is a great contrast to use in the garden, and it has a warmer feel than gravel.
is this bark safe for chikens,to walke on?
From what I can see, bark chippings are not the best for chickens, partly because of a particular type of fungus that is harmful to chickens. Hardwood chippings seem to be better, but you may want want to do some thorough research before deciding.
Hi I’m looking at creating a corner in my garden were the shed used to be for the kids trampoline. Will the recommended 10cm of bark be stable enough for it?
Hi , I have an area around the back of house which currently has paving slabs, I want to cover them up with bark but it’s allnext to the house.will it course damp for the house
Thanks for your comment. Most barks and wood chippings do absorb a lot of moisture, so they could potentially cause damp if right up against the house.
I would advise using a border, such as bricks, or a wooden sleeper to prevent the bark touching the house. However, this isn’t guaranteed to prevent damp.
I hope this helps!
My beds are quite wet- the whole garden is quite a damp site. Are bark chippings a good idea in this case. It is a large garden.
Thanks for your comment. Yes, bark chippings are great for damp beds because they absorb moisture. Some bark products are specifically tailored for moisture control so it is definitely worth having a look at those. Alternatively, why not try an moisture control compost, as this will store and release moisture as the plant needs it. Hope this helps.
I want to put bark down on my garden but how long will it last we have heard it turns to dust within a year is this true.?
Thanks for your comment. Bark can degrade over time, so you should replenish it every 2 to 3 years or when it begins to break down into dust.
I hope this helps!
Hi, You say fresh clippings draw the nitrogen from the soil. How long should they be left before use? I have oak and cherry chips from recently felled trees.
Thanks for your comment. You would be better letting the wood chips compost before you put them down.
Fresh cut chippings can draw out soil nitrogen, and they have little benefit as a mulch. They don’t fertilise the soil, retain moisture or help plants in any way. They are mostly used for paths or children’s play area, rather than planting spaces. The reason that they remove nitrogen from the soil is because the wood starts to slowly rot down, and it needs nitrogen for that process. When you use pre-composted chips, they have already begun to break down and no longer need so much nitrogen.
I hope this helps!