Mulch vs Bark – What is the Difference?

Mulch vs bark

Mulch is any substance placed on the soil’s surface to improve the soil’s health and appearance in your garden bed. Just like compost, Mulch is necessary to keep your plants looking wonderful, but not all types are equally effective. Mulch comes in various forms, but bark mulch is one of the best. It is manufactured from tree bark that has been shredded into fine, medium, and big bits for top dressing your garden beds. In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between bark and mulch and the benefits of bark mulch.

Comparison Of Mulch Vs Bark

DefinitionA material used to cover soil to retain moisture, suppress weed growth, and improve soil qualityThe outer protective layer of a tree trunk that is used as a landscaping material
MaterialCan be made from a variety of materials, including wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, straw, and shredded newspaperTypically made from the bark of trees, such as cedar, cypress, pine, and redwood
TextureCan have a fine or coarse texture, depending on the material usedTypically has a coarse texture
ColorCan be natural or dyed to various colors, including brown, black, and redNatural color ranges from light brown to dark brown, depending on the type of tree
FunctionHelps retain moisture in the soil, suppress weed growth, regulate soil temperature, and improve soil qualityUsed primarily as a decorative landscaping material
LifespanGenerally lasts 1-2 seasons before needing to be replenishedCan last up to 3-4 years before needing to be replenished
CostCan vary depending on the material used, with wood chips and straw typically being the most cost-effective optionsCan be more expensive than mulch, depending on the type of bark used
Environmental impactCan be made from sustainable materials, such as recycled wood or leaves, and can help reduce wasteCan contribute to deforestation if not sourced from sustainable forests
MaintenanceNeeds to be replenished regularly to maintain effectivenessGenerally requires minimal maintenance
SafetyCan be a fire hazard if not used properlyGenerally safe to use as a landscaping material
Overall purposeUsed primarily for functional purposes, such as retaining moisture and suppressing weedsUsed primarily for decorative purposes, such as enhancing the appearance of landscaping

Difference Between Bark and Mulch 

The main differences between the two are the capacity of wood chips, bark, and other mulch to insulate the ground, hold moisture in the soil, deposit nutrients, inhibit weed development, and how frequently they need to be renewed. Additional aspects may make or break your intended results, even if some of those skills may be established by their size. Once you understand the fundamentals, you’ll notice that mulch along with compost and manaure enhances your landscape, soil fertility and plants strengths while promoting garden growth.

 Benefits of Bark Mulch 

  • Maintains soil moisture
  • Provides additional weather protection for plants 
  • Weeds are suppressed
  • Prevents dust from flying around
  • Cools the soil
  • As it decomposes, it contributes to increasing the soil’s fertility.
  • Lasts for a long period
  • Enhances the appearance of the garden bed by adding texture and color to the beds
  •  Bark mulch is particularly helpful in fostering an environment favorable for earthworms and soil microbes, which over time benefits in reducing soil compaction. 

Types of Bark Mulch 

1. Shredded Wood Mulch 

Instead of originating directly from a newly cut tree, wood mulch is often a byproduct of the timber and paper industries. Although it comes in various hues and is frequently used for flower beds, shredded mulch isn’t always the best option. Some mulch made of colored and chopped wood may include chemical additions that are bad for the environment and the soil.

While typically safe, the colors are mostly employed to give mulch a more uniform look. As mulch is broken down over time, it could clump. Gently rake it to fluff it up, improving water penetration to the soil and plants. For best weed suppression, keep mulch several inches thick after being shredded.

2. Bark Mulch 

Bark mulch is made from tree bark, and depending on the source, it may contain one or more types of wood. There are many sizes available. Bark mulch can come from different types of trees and provide different benefits. It would be best to scrutinize each variety to choose something for your garden.

The staff at your gardening store or landscaper will know which bark mulch is a good choice for your plants and trees. Bark nuggets are less suitable for locations subject to floods or severe rain since the bark pieces might float away, but they persist longer than shredded wood mulch.

 During the growth season, bark fragments prevent microscopic weed shoots from sprouting by retaining moisture while obstructing sunlight. It will help if you spread it evenly on the ground and around the tree. Just make sure not to add too much coating. An inch or two will do for any tree or grass. Choose mulch carefully, especially if your tree prefers neutral or alkaline soil, as some bark mulch can add to the acidity. You can ask a professional or a horticultural shop owner about the acidity levels of different types of mulch.

3. Untreated Wood Mulch 

Untreated wood-chip mulch is exactly what it sounds like: wood that has been cut up into small chunks and shredded pieces. The bark and leaves in the wood chips may vary depending on the source.

Compared to shredded mulch, wood-chip mulch often has bigger chunks; the particles are typically 1 to 5 inches long and up to 3 inches wide. Because wood chips may contain leaves, bark, or fragments of several tree species, their chemical variety makes them an excellent choice for providing nutrients to the soil.

In addition to absorbing moisture, wood chips decompose more slowly than shredded mulches. When trees need to be trimmed, or branches and fallen trees need to be removed, any person or company can provide wood-chip mulch for little to no cost. Dye-infused wood chips are sold by some businesses as well. To ensure the wood is free of possibly dangerous chemicals, look for organically colored wood chips if chip color is important.

For mulching around trees and plants, wood chips work best. Instead of stacking the chips in a cone shape around the plant’s base, arrange them in a circle, with the lowest circle points several inches from the tree trunk. This enables the plant to receive oxygen and aids in preventing fungus problems.

Uses of Mulch 

1. Grass Clipping 

It’s simple to mulch your beds using mulch. After cutting your lawn, let the clippings dry for a day or two (to prevent damp, stinky grass) and add them to your garden beds. Use 2 to 3 inches around fruits, berries, and flowers. Never use grass clippings from lawns that have been weed-killer sprayed. Weed killer is also accessible and reasonably priced.

2. Straw hay 

In vegetable gardens, around strawberries and other small crops, straw hay mulch can be used up to 6 or 8 inches thick. In the garden, straw may serve as a source of weed seeds or provide a fire risk. The straw will look more lovely in your beds if you chop it up. Additionally, if you have cattle, this is cheap and easily accessible.

3. Pine Needle 

Pine needles, sometimes referred to as pine straw, make great mulch for some flower gardens. Pine straw is an organic mulch created from fallen pine needles. Like any garden mulch, pine needles form a shield that protects plants, retains moisture, improves soil quality, and inhibits weed development. They are light and fluffy, making it easy to spread them out, and they don’t compact much as they break down, so you don’t have to worry about them getting too thick or forming a mat that won’t let any rain through.

4. Shredded Leaf Mulch 

Shredded leaf mulch is a fallen leaf shredded with a leaf shredder or lawn mower. Use 2 to 3 inches around flower beds, vegetables, or shrubs. Do not use diseased or insectivorous leaves or black walnut leaves that can be toxic. The leaves are readily available in your yard and can be chopped easily, making it one of the most inexpensive cover crops.


Mulching offers a variety of advantages. Mulch helps retain moisture, prevent soil erosion, supply nutrients, and control weeds while protecting your investment in your home’s garden or landscape plants. A well-kept yard with attractively mulched planters will improve your house’s curb appeal and keep your plants healthy and strong. Your plants will appreciate it whether you use bark, wood chips, or other mulch material.

Frequently Asked Questions

Mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of soil to protect it and improve its fertility, while bark is a protective outer layer of a tree trunk or branch.

No, mulch and bark serve different purposes. Mulch is typically used to improve soil quality and retain moisture, while bark is used for decorative purposes or as a protective layer for trees.

There are several types of mulch, including wood chips, straw, leaves, grass clippings, and compost. Each type of mulch has its own unique benefits and can be used in different situations.

Some benefits of using mulch in landscaping include protecting plants from extreme temperatures, conserving soil moisture, suppressing weed growth, and improving the appearance of the landscape.

Bark can be used in landscaping to add a decorative touch to the garden, as well as to protect the base of trees and shrubs. It can also help to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds.

It depends on the specific needs of the plants and the environment in which they are grown. In general, mulch is more beneficial for plants because it helps to improve soil quality and retain moisture, while bark is primarily used for decorative purposes.

The frequency of mulch or bark replacement will depend on the type of material being used and the conditions in which it is being used. In general, wood mulch should be replaced every 1-3 years, while other types of mulch may need to be replaced more frequently. Bark should be replaced as needed, or when it becomes too thin or damaged to provide effective protection for trees and shrubs.

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One Comment

  1. My colleague is interested in planting some flowers around his property and is unsure how to help them grow stronger. I like your suggestion of investing in mulch because of the nutrients it contains. Maybe we should look for a landscape expert that can help him with this in the future.

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