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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

Mulch vs bark: what's the difference & which is best?

Updated: Mar 7

If you've been following along, I'm currently knee-deep in the planning stages of a garden revamp and have been looking extensively at all things DIY garden landscaping (from garden path lighting, driveway edging and rockeries to painting patios). One of the considerations after deciding how to landscape, is to decide what to put on the ground. In the last post, we looked at mulch vs pea gravel, and this time, we are taking more of a detailed look at mulch and how it compares to bark chippings. 

What is mulch?

Mulch is a broad term that refers to any material spread or laid over the surface of the soil as a covering. It can be made from a variety of organic materials, including wood chips, shredded leaves, grass clippings, straw, pine needles, and compost. Some mulches, known as inorganic mulches, are made from materials like rubber or plastic.

What are bark (chippings)?

mulched bark chippings

Bark is a specific type of mulch made from the outer layers of tree bark. It is typically derived from various tree species, such as cedar, pine, cypress, or hardwoods like oak or maple. Bark mulch is available in different sizes, ranging from small chips to larger nuggets, and it may vary in colour depending on the tree species.

Mulch and bark are both commonly used as ground cover materials in landscaping, but they have distinct differences in appearance and functionality. 

Appearance of Mulch

Organic mulches like wood chips or shredded leaves have a natural appearance that blends well with garden beds and landscapes. They may vary in colour depending on the source material but generally have earthy tones. Inorganic mulches like rubber mulch often come in a variety of colors for decorative purposes.

Appearance of Bark

Bark mulch has a distinct appearance characterized by the texture and color of the tree bark from which it is derived. Cedar bark mulch, for example, has a reddish-brown hue and a fibrous texture, while pine bark mulch may vary in color from reddish-brown to dark brown and has a chunkier texture.

Benefits of mulch

Mulch serves several functions in the garden, including moisture retention, weed suppression, soil insulation, and erosion control. Organic mulches break down over time, enriching the soil with organic matter and nutrients. They also help regulate soil temperature and reduce compaction.

Benefits of bark

Bark mulch provides similar benefits to other organic mulches, such as weed suppression, moisture retention, and soil insulation. However, bark mulch is known for its long-lasting durability compared to finer organic mulches like wood chips or shredded leaves. It remains intact for an extended period, requiring less frequent replenishing.

When to use mulch vs bark

Mulch - organic mulches like wood chips, shredded leaves, or grass clippings are suitable for a wide range of garden applications, including flower beds, vegetable gardens, and around trees and shrubs. They are particularly beneficial for improving soil health and supporting plant growth.

Bark - bark mulch is also suitable for various garden applications, including landscaping beds, pathways, and around trees and shrubs. Its durability makes it ideal for high-traffic areas where frequent foot traffic or heavy rains may degrade other types of mulch.

My choice

I decided that hardwood mulch was the best mulch for my proposed landscape design and will be installed along with weed control to ensure the bark chips don't have weeds popping up between them. Of all the different materials you can use for your mulch layer, bark aka wood chip mulch is such an easy way to add colour, texture and interest. Our local DIY store and garden centre are always running special offers on multiple bags of bark making it a great option for my bank account as well as my flower beds. 

Hardwood bark mulch emerges as a great choice for many gardeners. Its natural wood products, derived from the bark of trees like pine, cedar, or hardwoods, provide an attractive top dressing with different colours and sizes available. It looks natural and rustic and smells great too! Hardwood bark mulch serves as a reliable weed barrier, suppressing weed growth effectively while also helping to retain soil moisture and prevent soil erosion. Additionally, its organic composition improves soil quality over time, promoting healthy plant roots. 

Where next?

Here are some other garden-related posts...

Paths & Patios

Rockery & driveway


I hope you've found some of these ideas inspiring and useful, let me know in the comments if you try any of them. Be sure to scroll to the very bottom of the page & hit the subscribe button to receive my monthly newsletter which is packed full of tutorials, updates and offers.