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Pine Bark Mulch: Simple Buying Guide

A handful of Pine Bark Nuggets.

Pine Bark Mulch: Simple Buying Guide

Pine bark mulch comes from the bark of evergreen trees, with the most common being pine, fir and spruce.  

You have a few size options to choose from:

  • Pine bark nuggets
  • Pine bark shreds
  • Pine bark granules, also called “pine fines” 

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

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. 

RELATED: Pine bark is a great mulch, but it’s not your only option, by a long shot! We’ve written a comprehensive overview of various mulches out there and how to best use them. 

What Is Pine Bark Mulch?

As we already mentioned, pine bark mulch comes the bark of pine trees, which are softwood evergreen trees. 

Pine is a common lumber material, due mainly to its low cost and versatility in building applications. 

Lumber comes from a tree’s inner wood, and since pine is so popular, that leaves a lot of leftover bark to deal with. So it gets turned into mulch!

In the next sections, we’re taking a look at each of the three types of pine bark mulch and the pros and cons of each.

1. Pine Bark Nuggets

This is the most common option for pine bark mulch that you’ll find, by far. 

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, you can expect these measurements:

  • Pine bark mini nuggets: Around 1 inch in length
  • Standard size nuggets: About 2 inches
  • Jumbo nuggets: 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. 

Flowers with pine bark used as mulch.

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 nuggets 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 its 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. 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.

Some people use it as a top dressing around plants, so that’s why we’re covering it here. But granulated pine bark is much more of a soil conditioner than a true 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

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

For your outdoor needs, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding pine bark in large, 2 or 3-cubic foot bags at big-box stores or home-improvement stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot.

If you’re looking for a bulk delivery, check with your local garden supply stores and nurseries.

And if you’re looking for pine bark for houseplants, you can always order online.


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. 

Perfect for Acid-Loving Plants

Both pine bark and pine straw mulch 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
  • Tomatoes

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

I added some standard-size pine bark nuggets in my 5-gallon buckets where I’m growing tomatoes. Here’s a photo:

Pine Bark Nuggets in a bucket.

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.

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. 

And as we mentioned earlier, pine is a popular lumber for various uses, so mulch is a perfect way to recycle sawmill by-products.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pine Bark Mulch

Yes, you can use pine bark mulch in certain areas of the vegetable garden: For perennial veggies (like asparagus) and acid-loving plants (like tomatoes).

However, the best mulches for the rest of the vegetable garden are materials that break down quickly, like compost, last fall’s shredded leaves and dried grass clippings. 

Absolutely! It’s inexpensive, easy to find, retains healthy moisture and does a good job of keeping weeds down. 

But thanks to its elevated acid concentration, pine bark nuggets or shreds aren’t ideal for plants that prefer alkaline soil, like clematis, lilac and forsythia. 

Termites typically aren’t attracted to pine bark mulch since it lacks the nutritional content they need. 

However, according to Iowa State University, the loose, rich soil underneath your pine bark mulch is an ideal home for termites that live underground.

But that’s also the case for any mulch material, be organic or inorganic.

 Your best strategy for keeping termites away from your home is leave at least 3 inches between your mulch and your home’s foundation. 

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.