Which Pine Bark Mulch is Best for You?

Best Pine Bark Mulch

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Pine bark mulch is a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers across the country. 

But why? Is pine bark any better than other wood mulches? Are there some specific reasons you’d want to consider using it? 

In this article, we’ll take a close look at the different types of pine bark available. We’ll also cover the unique benefits each type has to offer and how you can decide which might be best for your needs. 

If you want to get a more comprehensive overview of mulch, check out our Mulch Mastery guide

Why Use Pine Bark Mulch?

When it comes to performing all the basic mulch duties, pine bark delivers:

  • Reduces weeds
  • Aids in soil moisture retention
  • Minimizes soil erosion
  • Insulates roots against heat and cold
  • Adds an attractive look
  • Enriches the soil with nutrients

In addition to these benefits, pine bark also boasts a few more qualities. 

Readily Available

You shouldn’t have any trouble finding pine bark at big-box stores, garden supply stores and nurseries. 

Environmentally Friendly

Evergreen trees thrive in many parts of North America, and they tend to be fast growers (by tree standards!). The combination of a rapid growth pattern and hardiness make pine a highly sustainable resource. 

Also, pine is a popular lumber for various uses, so mulch is a perfect way to recycle sawmill by-products.

Affordable

Since pine bark is in plentiful supply across the country, pine mulch is typically inexpensive.

Particularly if you have a strict budget or a large area to mulch, pine bark can help stretch your dollars.

Furthermore, pine bark contains certain chemical compounds that cause it to break down more slowly than other wood mulches. Not only can you spend less at the outset, but you’ll also have fewer maintenance costs over time. 

Natural, Long-Lasting Color

When first applied, most wood mulches have an attractive color that gives your garden a freshened-up look. Unfortunately, the color usually starts fading within a year or two, leaving behind a weathered, grayish hue.

Pine bark naturally has a deep reddish-brown coloring that looks striking against a variety of backgrounds. Pine mulch also tends to hold its color for longer than other wood mulches.

Perfect for Acid-Loving Plants

Both pine bark and pine straw release a small amount of acid into the soil as they decompose.

Many vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil conditions. Some plants need a highly acidic environment to thrive. These include:

  • Azaleas
  • Blueberries
  • Rhododendrons

In addition to protecting roots and soil, pine bark can also be a mild soil amendment for acid-loving plants. 

What Is Pine Bark Mulch?

Pine bark mulch comes from the bark of evergreen trees. The most common tree sources are pine, fir and spruce.  

You have a few size options when it comes to pine bark:

  • Nuggets
  • Shreds
  • Granules 

Each size has its benefits and drawbacks. Choosing the one that’s right for you depends on your garden or landscaping goals. 

1. Pine Bark Nuggets

As opposed to the more familiar wood chips or shreds, pine bark nuggets are small chunks of wood material.

Nuggets are typically available in mini, standard and large sizes. On average, mini pine bark nuggets measure around 1 inch in length, and the standard size is about 2 inches. Jumbo nuggets can be up to 4 inches long. 

When Should You Use Pine Bark Nuggets?

With their unique shape and bulky size, nuggets can be both a fun and functional choice.  

You want a natural look. Fallen forest trees often crumble into chunks as they decompose, and pine bark nuggets mimic this effect.

You prefer a heavily textured finish. Chipped or shredded wood mulch has a smooth appearance that often produces the appearance of solid color.

Thanks to their bulkier shape and size, nuggets can add visual interest and texture to your garden or landscape. 

You want fewer mulch applications. Many gardeners find that they need to freshen up hardwood or cypress mulch every spring, with full mulch replacements every few years.

Since they’re larger, pine bark nuggets take longer to break down than their chipped or shredded counterparts. Especially if you choose large nuggets, your pine bark mulch should last for over five years between applications. 

You want long-lasting color. In the same vein as the previous point, nuggets are better at maintaining their color thanks to their size and slow decomposition process. 

Drawbacks to Nuggets

Pine bark nuggets can be a great choice in the right circumstances. However, in the wrong ones, nuggets can be more trouble than they’re worth. 

Washes away easily. Although they’re a little heavier than their shredded counterparts, nuggets are prone to floating away when water levels rise.

Pine bark nuggets aren’t a good choice if you have:

  • Slopes. Water flows downhill, so you risk your mulch getting swept away if you apply nuggets on hills or grades.
  • Poor drainage areas. Whether it’s due to soil composition or the local water table, certain areas are prone to poor drainage. Using nuggets in spots where water tends to pool can leave you with a post-storm mess to clean up.  

2. Pine Bark Shreds

Sometimes referred to as “double processed,” shredded pine bark has been broken up into smaller pieces and then ground into shreds.

When are Pine Bark Shreds Best?

Although nuggets tend to be the more popular choice for pine mulch, shredded bark can be ideal for several situations. 

You want the look of traditional mulch. You like the finished, smooth appearance of traditional mulch, but you want the benefits of pine bark. What to do?

With a very similar look to hardwoodcypress and cedar mulch, shredded pine bark offers the best of both worlds.

Drawbacks to Shredded Pine Bark

Even though pine bark shreds are a versatile material, there are a couple of drawbacks to consider. 

Requires refreshing or replacement more frequently. Due to their smaller size, shredded pine bark will decompose and lose its color more quickly than nuggets. 

However, keep in mind that all pine bark mulches break down more slowly than other wood. So you’ll still likely be able to go at least a few years between replacements. 

May acidify the soil too much. Since it breaks down more quickly, shredded pine may add too much acid for some plants to tolerate. 

If you grow alkaline-loving plants, make sure to check your soil’s pH after using shredded pine mulch. You may find that you need to add soil amendments to raise the pH level. 

3. What About Pine Bark Granules?

Pine granules are also known as “pine bark fines.” This name is an apt fit since granules are finely shredded bits of pine bark.

Granules add a crumbly texture to your soil, and they also promote better aeration and drainage. Although some people use it as mulch, granulated pine bark is more of a soil conditioner than a true mulch. 

Being that it’s not an ideal mulch, primary uses for pine bark granules include the following:

  • Add a looser texture to the soil
  • Enrich the soil with nutrients
  • Use in a potting mix

Final Thoughts

Pine bark mulch might be the perfect choice if you’re looking for any of these features:

  • Inexpensive
  • Widely available
  • Eco-friendly
  • Durability
  • Natural color

In one form or another, pine bark mulch is appropriate for almost any garden or landscape bed. Use your individual needs as a guide to choosing the type that’s right for you, and enjoy the benefits for years to come. 

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