- What Is Pine Bark: Information On Using Pine Bark For Mulch
- What is Pine Bark?
- Benefits of Pine Bark Mulch
- Mulches for the Vegetable Garden
- Best Mulch for Vegetable Gardens
- Worst Mulch for Vegetable Gardens
- Pine Bark Nuggets
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What Is Pine Bark: Information On Using Pine Bark For Mulch
Properly placed organic mulch can benefit soil and plants in many ways. Mulch insulates the soil and plants in winter, but also keeps soil cool and moist in summer. Mulch can control weeds and erosion. It also helps to retain soil moisture and prevent splash back of soil that can could contain soil borne fungus and diseases. With so many choices of organic mulches on the market, it can be confusing. This article will discuss the benefits of pine bark mulch.
What is Pine Bark?
Pine bark mulch, as the name suggests, is made from the shredded bark of pine trees. In some cases, though, bark of other evergreens, like fir and spruce, may be added into pine bark mulch.
other wood mulches, pine bark mulch is available for purchase in different forms and textures, from finely shredded or doubled processed to larger chunks called pine nuggets. Which consistency or texture you choose depends on your own preference and the garden’s needs.
Pine nuggets take longer to break down; therefore, last longer in the garden than finely shredded mulches.
Benefits of Pine Bark Mulch
Pine bark mulch in gardens tends to last longer than most organic mulches, whether finely shredded or in nugget form. The natural red-dark brown color of pine bark mulch also lasts longer than other wood mulches, which tends to fade to gray after a year.
However, pine bark mulch is very lightweight. And while this can make it easy to spread, it makes it inappropriate for slopes, as the bark can be easily moved by wind and rain. Pine bark nuggets are naturally buoyant and will float in circumstances with too much water.
Any organic mulch benefits soil and plants by retaining moisture, protecting plants from extreme cold or heat and preventing the spread of soil borne diseases. This is true of pine bark mulch as well.
Pine bark mulch is especially beneficial to acid-loving garden plants. It also adds aluminum to the soil, promoting green, leafy growth.
Using a mulch in the vegetable garden has become a very popular and almost necessary item. Mulches perform many duties in the garden by suppressing weeds, controlling water runoff, helping to control some garden pests, and also by creating a more attractive garden space.
Personally, I never used any type of mulch in my vegetable garden until this year, and now I swear by it. Adding mulch to my vegetable garden has decreased weeds to almost none. I may have to pull a tiny weed or two every couple weeks, compared to when I did not use mulch, I needed to pull weeds almost every day. That alone has sold me on the importance of using mulch.
Many gardeners that have never used mulch in their vegetable gardens before may wonder which type of mulch is best. It really depends on what is readily available in your area, and what you are growing in your garden.
Mulches for the Vegetable Garden
Here are the two types of mulches you can use in your garden, and examples of each type:
Organic Mulches for the Vegetable Garden
Organic mulches are made from plant materials such as bark , leaves or needles, grass clippings, or compost.
A 2-inch layer of sawdust provides good weed control. Fresh sawdust contains a great deal of carbon and very little nitrogen, and its breakdown requires that microorganisms take nitrogen from the soil. A very thin layer of sawdust, about a 1/4 inch, is useful in starting seeds because it helps keep moisture in. There is often a problem with crusting of fresh sawdust, which can make it difficult for rainfall to soak through. Sawdust is best used for vegetable garden paths and around permanent plantings. Readily available from sawmills, it tends to be inexpensive.
Hay or Straw
A 6- to 8-inch layer of hay or straw provides good annual weed control. These materials decompose quickly and must be replenished to keep down weeds. They stay in place and will improve the soil as they decay. Avoid hay that is full of weed seed and brambles. Fresh legume hay, such as alfalfa, supplies nitrogen as it quickly breaks down. Hay and straw are readily available in rural areas, but city dwellers may not be able to obtain hay easily. Straw, on the other hand, may be purchased at most garden centers, often commanding a high price. Both are recommended for vegetable and fruit plantings.
Baled pine needles are also found in garden centers for use as a mulch. Pine needles and pine bark should be watched closely in vegetable garden as they can raise the acidic levels of the soil.
A 2-inch layer of grass clippings provides good weed control. Build up the layer gradually, using dry grass. A thick layer of green grass will give off excessive heat and foul odors rather than decompose as other organic material. However, in limited quantity, clippings will decompose rapidly and provide an extra dose of nitrogen to growing plants, as well as making fine humus.
Avoid crabgrass and grass full of seed heads. Also, do not use clippings from lawns which have been treated that season with herbicide or a fertilizer/herbicide combination. Grass clippings may be used directly as mulch around vegetables or fruit plants, or they may be composted. They are an excellent source of nitrogen to heat up a compost pile, especially for those gardeners without access to manures.
A layer of leaves, 2 to 3 inches thick after compaction, provides good annual weed control. Leaves will decompose fairly quickly, are usually easy to obtain, attractive as a mulch, and will improve the soil once decomposed. To reduce blowing of dry leaves, allow to decompose partially. Leaves are a highly recommended vegetable gardening mulch.
Note: Leaves of the black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) are an exception due to the presence of juglone, a chemical that inhibits growth of many plants. While walnut roots and hulls cause most of the problems, the leaves also contain smaller quantities. Avoid using leaves collected from under black walnut trees as garden mulch. However, if leaves are obtained from a municipal collection source, the quantity of black walnut leaves likely will be diluted sufficiently that no injury should be observed. Several other nut trees also produce small quantities of juglone, and problems with sensitive plants are seldom seen even when growing under those tree canopies.
A 2- to 3-inch layer of compost is a fair weed control. Most compost, however, provides a good site for weed seeds to grow. It is probably better used by incorporating it into the soil since it is an excellent soil amendment. A layer of compost may be used on overwintering beds of perennials, such as asparagus or berries, to provide nutrients and help protect crowns.
Bark and Wood Chips
A 2- to 3-inch layer of bark provides good weed control. Wood chips are slower to decay than shredded bark, and can be used as a pathway material in raised beds.
Inorganic Mulches for the Vegetable Garden
Inorganic mulches are made from man-made materials such as black plastic or newspaper.
One layer of black plastic provides excellent weed control. It is relatively slow to decompose, but will be somewhat broken down by sunlight and must be replaced every two years at least. Black plastic mulch will increase the soil temperature by about 8°F in the spring. It may cause soil temperatures to rise too much in mid-summer, damaging the roots of plants unless a good foliage cover or organic mulch prevents direct absorption of sunlight.
Check periodically to see that soil remains moist beneath the plastic; cut holes in it if water doesn’t seem to be getting through. Black plastic is easy to obtain, but is fairly expensive. A new type of black plastic has recently come onto the market which has a white, reflective side to prevent the overheating problems experienced with solid black plastic. Another plastic is porous to allow penetration of water and exchange of gases between the soil and air.
Using 2 to 4 layers of newspaper provides good weed control. It decomposes within a season and is readily available and cheap. Cover with an organic mulch, such as sawdust or hay, to hold paper in place. Excellent for use in pathways and around newly set strawberry plants.
Lead in printers’ ink has been a concern of some vegetable gardeners desiring to use newspaper, however, printers no longer use lead compounds in ink for black and white newsprint, though colored inks may contain lead.
Make Gardening Fun and Easy
Mulch is used for flower beds, trees, gardens, leveled ground, roses, etc.
We all know that mulching has numerous benefits for your plants, but which is the best mulch for vegetable gardens?
Luckily for you, I made a list of the best mulch types for your veggies.
When it comes to choosing a mulch type, the number of options available can be overwhelming.
Some of the mulches may look good and can be great for landscaping but are not all suitable to be used for vegetable gardens.
Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that the owner of this website might be compensated for any qualifying purchases made via these links.
Best Mulch for Vegetable Gardens
I’ll start with my favorite mulches and which I consider being the best mulch for vegetable gardens.
1. Coconut Husk Mulch (Coir Mulch/Coco Husk Chips)
By Fotokannan ,from Wikimedia CommonsCoconut husk mulch is a 100% organic bio-degradable and eco-friendly mulch that I recommend for protecting your vegetables from weeds.
This mulch is made from coconut shells and is a perfect alternative to the tree bark-based mulches.
Coconut husk allows good air flow, keeps the weeds out, doesn’t wash away when you water your plants and contains absolutely no pesticides and no chemicals.
The strong point of this mulch type is that the coconut husk mulch absorbs the water very well and slowly releases it to the plants. Therefore, you should water the plants less frequently when you use this mulch.
It’s also a great choice for potted plants, containers, and for indoor use because it has a smooth texture and almost no odor.
The coconut husk it’s also high in nutrients, it’s free of bacteria and most fungal spores and has a balanced pH, which makes it suitable for any type of plants.
Coconut husk mulch is cheap and can usually be found in compressed bricks that increase their volume 8 to 10 times in water.
Buy it on Amazon
2. Pine Straw Mulch
By Júlio Reis (User:Tintazul) (Original File) ,via Wikimedia CommonsThe pine straw mulch is made from dried pine needles and it’s exceptional for vegetable gardens.
You can find this mulch for free in the pine forests, or you can simply buy it from Amazon. It’s one of the easiest to find mulches and it’s also pretty cheap.
The pine straw mulch allows a good water infiltration to the roots of your plants, maintains a good humidity level in the soil, doesn’t wash away, and stops the weeds from growing in your vegetable garden.
I prefer this mulch type because is 100% organic and does its job extraordinarily well.
Besides that, I think it looks good and gives your garden a natural look.
Some gardeners avoid using the pine straw mulch because of the myth that once they decompose, the pine straws will make the soil acidic and will lead to a decline in soil fertility.
However, that’s only a myth.
Pine needles do NOT make soil acidic.
While the pine needles are acidic in the raw shape, by the time they fall on the ground and decompose, the pH of the pine straws becomes neutral and the acidity is not transferred to the soil.
According to the Forest Industry Council of Australia, pines do not harm the soil and various studies have found no evidence of soil acidification in the pine forests.
In fact, they even affirm that the “soil tends to become less acidic under pine than under eucalypts”.
Many other biologists confirmed this fact. Therefore, the myth that the pine straw mulch makes the soil acidic is busted.
Buy it on Amazon
3. Pine Bark Mini Nuggets
By Warlev ,from Wikimedia CommonsThe pine bark mini-nuggets mulch, as its name suggests, is made from pine bark.
This mulch has a really nice and natural brown-dark color which blends exceptionally with the landscape. If you don’t like the hay-look of the mulch made from pine straw, then you will probably adore the appearance of this mulch.
Besides its good looks, the pine bark mini-nuggets is very effective as garden mulch.
It’s again 100% organic, it’s slowly decomposing, it doesn’t wash away easily, maintains the humidity in the soil for a long time and it stops the weeds from invading your beloved garden.
The pine bark mini-nuggets mulch is fairly cheap, but unlike the pine straw mulch which can cover a bigger ground surface with less mulch, you might need to purchase a larger amount of this mulch if you have a big garden.
I think the pine bark mini-nuggets is also one of the best mulch types for containers.
The mulch made from pine needles and the pine bark are my two favorite choices in terms of mulches.
Buy it on Amazon
4. Natural Cedar Shavings
By TERRYM Cedar shavings are perfect for mulching your garden.
The cedar wood originates from different trees known as “cedars” that grow in various parts of the world.
This mulch type is just as effective in gardening as the mulch made from pine straws or pine bark.
The great advantage of cedar mulch is that not only it’s going to keep the moisture in the soil and protect your plants from nasty weeds, but the strong smell of cedar wood will also repel the bugs and keep the insects away from your garden.
Just as in the case of the mulch made from pine straw, there are people sustaining that the mulch made from cedar wood can harm garden plants.
Fortunately, that’s yet again just a myth circulating in gardening communities. Several studies have shown the opposite and have concluded that the cedar wood actually helps the plant growth instead of harming them.
Just make sure that when you buy cedar shavings, it’s clearly stated on the packaging that the product contains only 100% natural cedar shavings. You don’t want to end up buying mulch that was treated with chemical substances.
Buy it on Amazon
5. Cypress Mulch
By Pandora183 ,from Wikimedia CommonsCypress mulch is another organic mulch that can be used in your vegetable garden without any nocive effects for your plants.
The Cypress mulch is made from shredded pond cypress trees and bald cypress trees.
“Cypress” is a common name for several coniferous trees in the family of Cupressaceae that grow on wet, swampy, and seasonally inundated soil in several areas of the United States (mainly Florida and Louisiana).
In nature, these trees provide the home for several species of wildlife and their roots also provide a natural water filtration system for ponds.
Unfortunately, due to the high demand for their wood, the number of the Cypress tree forests has declined radically in recent years.
Even if the Cypress can be very efficient as mulch for your plants, to protect the trees in the Cupressaceae family, I suggest you to choose an alternative like pine bark, pine needles, cedar shavings or coconut husk.
Buy it on Amazon
Worst Mulch for Vegetable Gardens
1. Rubber mulch
Phasmatisnox at English Wikipedia ,from Wikimedia CommonsThe best example here would be the rubber mulch.
This mulch type is very often used for kids playgrounds and landscaping projects, but there are even people that use the rubber mulch in their vegetable gardens.
The rubber mulch is appealing to some gardeners because it doesn’t rot, maintains very well the humidity in the soil, doesn’t attract insects, and requires less maintenance.
Apparently, it looks like the rubber mulch can offer all the benefits of the organic mulch.
Still, I would never use rubber mulch or any type of synthetic mulch in my garden.
Because these mulches can contain toxic substances that can contaminate the soil and do more harm than good.
First of all, the rubber mulch is made from recycled tires. In the tires manufacturing process, there are utilized different materials like carbon black, sulfur, liquid latex, acids, additives, and other substances.
The rubber mulch is basically made just from tires chopped into small pieces.
Well, since I’m not a chemist you might think that I’m just paranoid, but let’s see what experts say about rubber mulch.
Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center at Washington State University, in “The Myth of Rubberized Landscapes” has concluded the following:
- Rubber mulch is not as effective as other organic mulch choices in controlling weeds.
- Rubber mulch is highly flammable and difficult to extinguish once it is burning.
- Rubber mulch is not permanent; like other organic substances, it decomposes.
- Rubber mulch is not non-toxic; it contains a number of metals and organic contaminants with known environmental and/or human health effects.
So, it appears I’m not the only one who thinks that the rubber mulch is very toxic for plants.
For more pros and cons of using rubber mulch in the garden, read this post.
2. Dyed Mulch
By PublicDomainPictures Another mulch type I avoid using in my garden is the dyed mulch.
This mulch is available in several different colors (most popular are red, green, brown, and black) and it’s made from recycled wood (it can be anything from wood pallets to lumber or wood from demolition sites).
Sounds pretty good, right? We make mulch by recycling wood wastes and we also protect the environment.
The reality is that a large part of this recycled wood has been treated with chemical substances during the initial manufacturing process, chemicals designed to prevent the wood from rotting and degrading.
Many of these chemicals are passed to the dyed mulch and if we use these materials as mulch for our garden, we risk contaminating the soil and vegetables with dye and other potentially dangerous substances.
In conclusion, you shouldn’t use dyed mulch in your garden.
By SuSanA Secretariat ,via Wikimedia CommonsMany sources recommend using compost as mulch.
I don’t share the same opinion and I truly think that compost should be solely used combined with the soil and not placed over the surface of the ground with the purpose of stopping weeds from growing.
A mature compost provides the soil with the essential nutrients for the healthy growth of the plants. Applying the compost as mulch will offer a favorable habitat both for the plants, but also for the growth of the weeds.
Probably, if you apply a very thick layer of compost over the surface of the soil, it will keep the weeds away for a short time. Still, in the end, the weeds will pierce the layer of compost and invade your garden.
Once that happens, the nutrients in the compost will only help the weeds to grow faster.
Therefore, I’d recommend you to limit the usage of compost as fertilizer and soil reconditioner and not for mulching.
Pine Bark Nuggets
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“You are what you eat” is an old saying, and it points the way to picking the right mulch for your landscape. It’s common sense that if you add several inches of anything to your gardens each year it will affect the soil quality over time. We like to say that whatever you spread on your landscaping each year, that’s what your soil will become.
Good mulches turn into soil eventually. Some mulches are much better for your plants than others. For instance, most plants prefer “acid” soils, so pine bark is healthier for them than hardwood mulch, and much healthier than dyed wood chips. Many mulches contain recycled pallets and other waste wood. These can be bait for termites, and actually rob your soil of nutrients as they decompose. The ideal mulch should improve your soil, turning into rich humus that can be tilled in to loosen compacted soils and clay.
We’ve tried many mulches in our gardens over the years, and we’ve settled on pine bark for our own landscape. We like to use shredded pine bark on new plantings, and then switch to larger pine bark nuggets after a few years because it lasts longer and discourages weeds better. Another thing we like about pine bark nuggets is that even when they’re wet they “breathe” instead of packing down, and they dry out quickly which discourages fungus diseases.
Pine bark mulch has a low PH, which means it is good food for evergreens, blueberries, dogwoods and other acid-loving plants. Mulching your beds with pine bark year after year will build your soil very nicely. Finely shredded, composted hardwood mulches like are next best. Proper composting kills weed seeds and diseases, so you’re not importing problems into your landscape. Poor quality mulches are more likely to breed funguses and mushroom colonies.
All mulches are not equally effective at weed control. Fine-ground mulches are much like potting soils; wind-blown weed seeds or blown grass clippings will sprout and root easily. Course bark mulches or “nuggets” aren’t so friendly to weed seeds, and they last much longer before turning to soil so they make better weed barriers for a much longer period. That makes them ultimately cheaper, because you need less in future years.
Over the years we’ve seen mulch fads like recycled shredded tires and ground cypress roots. If spread thick enough, these by-products will suppress weeds, but they don’t bio-degrade so they won’t improve you soil. Your plants won’t appreciate being smothered by non-compostable mulches. These products work fine for paths and play areas, but they are poison for gardens.
The first step in shopping for mulch is figuring out how much you need. Figure out how many square feet of beds you have to cover by multiplying how many feet long times how many feet wide. For three inches thick of cover you’ll need one cubic foot of mulch for every four square feet of beds. One cubic foot for every six square feet will give you a two-inch thick mulch job. Most mulches come in 2 Cubic foot bags, although convenience stores and mass merchants are now stocking smaller bags so they can advertise a lower price per bag.
All mulches are not equally good for your garden, and some can be downright harmful. There’s no requirement for labeling to disclose what exactly is in the bag. You get what you pay for with mulch. Smart gardeners choose mulch very carefully, and don’t just buy the cheapest thing they can find. If you buy bulk mulch, pay attention to how it’s stored and handled. Are there lots of weeds going to seed in the vicinity? Is the loader bucket and storage area muddy and messy? Likely there are weed seeds in the mulch already, possibly even hard-to-control field weeds like thistle, and you could be importing them into your yard.
Mulch suppresses weeds by preventing the sun from reaching weed seeds. It won’t help with deep-rooted perennial weeds that are already growing. If you introduce weed seeds into or on top of the mulch, for instance by blowing clippings onto it or digging up the underlying soil, you’ll have weeds. Most people don’t spread mulch thick enough, or do the housekeeping to clean up the beds before mulching. Think of weed seeds as germs, and do your best to keep the mulch clean.
Your landscaping looks best with a blanket of fresh, dark mulch. If you follow these tips, your investment in new mulch will give you more than just good looks. It will benefit your plants and save you many hours of work.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.
By Steve Boehme
Mulch is a landscaper’s best friend because it:
- reduces weeds;
- improves moisture retention;
- maintains soil temperatures; and
- enhances the beauty of landscapes.
Mulch is basically a magic carpet for your landscape.
How do you choose the right mulch for your landscape?
Using quality mulch in your garden is one of the easiest ways to transform your landscape. Mulch comes in all shapes and sizes and flavors. When choosing a mulch there are a few factors to consider – species of wood, source, size, and color – to identify a mulch that will best fit your needs. Since the selection process can be tricky we summarized our most popular mulches with the following descriptions.
This mulch has a pleasant cedar smell that lasts a fair amount of time after spreading. Cedar is also great for repelling insects. Cedar mulch has a very slow decay process so it won’t break down quickly. Also, cedar mulch is the most resistant to artillery fungus.
- AVAILABLE IN BULK: Canadian Cedar is available at our Harvest New England locations in Connecticut.
- AVAILABLE IN BAGS: Cedar Mulch Blend (2-cubic-foot bags) by Garden Pro® is available in stores in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast.
BARK MULCHES / COLORED BARK MULCHES
This is a recycled mulch usually made from hardwood logs and bark. These types of mulches break down quickly and add nutrients to the soil. Natural colorants make this mulch stand out.
- AVAILABLE IN BULK: Ultra Brown Mulch is our most popular product in New England (Connecticut). We also have Brown Double Shredded Hardwood Mulch and Black Double Shredded Hardwood Mulch in the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland, DC, Virginia).
- AVAILABLE IN BAGS: We offer Brown-, Red- and Black- Colored mulch (2- and 3- cubic foot bags) by Nature’s Pride in stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
PINE BARK MULCH
This mulch has a naturally rich dark color with a pleasant pine scent. Pine mulch is a slow decomposer and is often over looked. This mulch has great longevity and is relatively inexpensive!
- AVAILABLE IN BULK: Pine Blend is one of our most popular mulches, available in New England (Connecticut). Pine Fines are an exceptional soil conditioner for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, hollies and magnolias – available in the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland, DC, Virginia).
- AVAILABLE IN BAGS: We offer a variety of Pine- based mulches including Pine Bark Mulch in two-cubic-foot bags in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
This mulch has strong reddish and orange tones which add rich color to landscapes. Hemlock mulch is very aromatic. Just like cedar and pine mulch, hemlock mulches decomposes slowly so it is long lasting. Hemlock has a natural reddish look.
- AVAILABLE IN BULK: Hemlock Mulch is available in at our Harvest New England locations.
- AVAILABLE IN BAGS: Hemlock Mulch Blend is available in two-cubic-foot bags in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
Where can I find mulch from Harvest?
Great question! In addition to the mulches listed above, we offer a variety of mulch (and soil) products throughout North America. Find a convenient location near you:
- A Store or Site Near You
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- Lower Mainland, British Columbia
- North Shore