When looking for an environmentally friendly, organic product that fills a number of roles in the garden, you really couldn’t find anything better than decorative bark.

Decorative bark is the bark of pine trees. Pine trees form the basis of much of the potting soil and compost that you’ll find on the shelves of Builders and every garden centre. Instead of throwing the bark away when processing the trees for these products, it is used to create this beautiful and versatile product that we use for various applications in the garden.

How is it used?
There are so many ways to use decorative bark, but let’s discuss some of our favourites. When you put a pot inside a bigger pot cover, there’s that unsightly gap between the two. A layer of bark nuggets fills this gap aesthetically and looks natural.

Using decorative bark in the garden
Using decorative bark in the garden
Decorative bark also has more uses in terms of gardening. For example, it can be used as an effective organic mulch. Mulching is spreading a layer of material, often organic, across the surface of the soil to protect it and even feed it. You should never have bare soil in your soil – when it rains heavily or when the wind is strong, the valuable top layer of soil will be lost to erosion. Mulch prevents this erosion. Mulching also benefits gardeners hugely by reducing the amount of light reaching the soil, thus suppressing weed growth. Another benefit of mulching is that the – and decorative bark works well in this regard – traps moisture in the soil by keeping the soil cooler and reducing evaporation, which means that you need to water less often.
Bark breaks down over time, eventually becoming soil particles. This adds organic matter to the soil, which encourages good microbial activity (the good bugs we want in our soil to keep it healthy). Broken-down bark also improves the aeration of soil, especially valuable in clay soil. And if you have sandy soil, adding this beautiful organic content to the soil will actually improves water retention, absorbing water and helping with binding capacity.

Moving away from actual gardening, a great use for these decorative bark nuggets is in children’s play areas. There’s nothing worse than a little guy running in a play area and falling on gravel. Bark is much softer, so you’ll have far fewer scratches and tears.

When we’re paving we’re very quick to make hard pathways complete with cemented-in pavers, but this creates runoff and has knock-on effects. Another option is cover pathways with softer materials like bark, or to use pavers surrounded by bark. This allows water to permeate and be returned to the ground.

Decorative bark is graded into different sizes for different applications: very fine, medium and chunky. For paving in walkways, use a finer bark – it’s softer and more comfortable. The chunky bark nuggets on the other hand are very useful in mass landscaping projects. If you’ve created a large new bed, use the big bark nuggets – remember, it’s about scale and proportions, so the larger the area the bigger the material you use.

Using decorative bark in the garden
Using decorative bark in the garden
When using decorative bark on pathways, first lay down landscaping fabric. This will prevent the bark from disappearing into the soil and so will make it last longer, while still allowing water to reach the soil. This fabric is made from the recycled lids of plastic bottles and comes in 1 m and 10 m long rolls. You simply lay it down, cut it to fit and then cover it with the bark.

How long will bark last?
If used correctly, decorative bark can last for five or even seven years in the garden.

Remember, everything you read about in this blog is available from Builders, either in-store or online from builders.co.za.
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