Bark can be used as mulch for your flower beds or vegetable garden or it can be used in place of concrete to make a nice and natural-looking path. There are many uses for bark and it also comes in different grades depending on what you intend to use it for. There are also different types of membranes that you can buy too. There are thick plastic membranes that will prevent growth underneath, but they will also hold water and have more place in your garden pond than under bark. Then there are weed-proof membranes that will prevent the growth of weeds, but they will drain, letting the water reach the soil underneath. You may see bark listed online as bark chippings, bark mulch, landscaping bark, ornamental bark, play-grade bark (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) and bark nuggets and you may be wondering if they are all the same thing. Essentially, they are the same but there are subtle differences as ornamental bark and play-grade bark usually have less white wood content making it softer to be used as a play surface. Furthermore, bark chippings will contain bark and may contain more white wood which is sharper and therefore not recommended to play on. Depending on what you are doing, you may ask yourself, do you need a membrane under bark?
Do You Need a Membrane Under Bark?
Whether or not you need to lay a membrane under your bark will depend on what you are using it for. For example, if you are using the bark in a new flower bed, it may be a good idea to lay some membrane down to prevent the need for weeding further down the line. If, however, you have an established bed, it may not be a good idea to lay the membrane as it will prevent some of your other plants and flowers from growing. Let us have a look at a few uses of bark and see if we need to lay some weed-proof membrane down or not.
Paths and Play Areas
If you are creating a path or a play area using bark, it will be a good idea to lay some weed-proof membrane as you will not want those unsightly weeds coming through. The weed-proof membrane will ensure that your path or play area is low-maintenance so you can keep your focus on other areas of the garden that are more important.
It is generally not considered a good idea to use bark as mulch in your vegetable garden as it tends to break down more slowly than other more suitable materials such as straw or grass clippings. If, however, you do intend on using bark, the choice of whether to lay a membrane is up to you although you may want to consider the difficulty of how you lay the membrane. If you have an established vegetable garden, laying a membrane is probably not an option as you will have to cut and open it up in so many places with holes so big that it may just be a waste of time and not serve its purpose.
If you have a new vegetable garden that you are preparing for the new season, you may decide that a membrane is worth it to prevent your veggies from competing with weeds for nutrients in the soil. When planting out your seedlings, you will however need to cut small holes in the membrane, so the new growth has somewhere to reach daylight.
Mulching flower beds with bark is a great idea to help retain moisture and prevent those pesky weeds from coming through. In much the same way as the vegetable garden, you will have to decide if a membrane is worth the effort. An established flower bed or border would mean that you would have to make all the necessary holes to get the membrane over your plants whereas if you are planting a new bed, a membrane may be very useful if it is laid at the start. If the flower bed is already established, you could just lay the bark mulch directly to the bed with no membrane.
The mulch helps the soil retain moisture and keep the soil warm and it will still also aid in keeping the number of weeds that are growing although you may still need to do a little weeding occasionally.
How Much Bark Do I Need?
The amount of bark that you will require will depend on what you are using it for. Do not forget to measure the area L x W x D = V. Length x Width x Depth = Volume. You can
In soft play areas or any area where falls are more likely, it is generally considered good practice to have a depth of at least 8-10 inches.
Around plants and flowers, a depth of 2-3 inches is sufficient and will ensure that the time spent weeding is hugely reduced.
When laying a path, for best results and a nice, soft path underfoot you will want to lay the bark approximately 5 inches deep.
Other Things to Consider When Using Bark
There are another couple of things to consider when using bark and a membrane.
- Ensure that you are using a weed-proof fabric membrane so that water will be able to drain away freely. If you are using plastic, pierce some holes in it every 30cm or so.
- Bark is a natural substance and over time, it will break down so it will need to be topped up with fresh bark every few years.
- If using bark as mulch, ensure that the chippings are not fresh as they will absorb all the nitrogen out of the soil.
Tips for Laying Membrane Under Bark
- Overlap the Edges: When laying multiple sheets of membrane, ensure you overlap the edges by at least 20cm. This prevents weeds from finding their way through the gaps and ensures a continuous barrier against unwanted growth.
- Secure Firmly: Use garden pegs or U-shaped pins to secure the membrane in place, especially around the edges and at overlapping sections. This prevents the membrane from shifting when you’re spreading the bark and ensures it stays in place over time.
- Cut Slits for Existing Plants: If you have plants you want to keep, cut X-shaped slits in the membrane around the base of each plant. This allows the plant to grow while still providing a barrier against weeds. Make sure to cut the slits just large enough for the plant to fit through to minimize the exposed soil.
So, do you need a membrane under bark? The jury is out, and it depends on where you want to use it. It does make a great weed suppression for your flower beds, but it will be extremely difficult to install if the bed is already is established. If you are making a path or a play area, then we think that having a membrane is essential. On a final note, bark makes a great mulch and material for natural-looking pathways and soft play areas, but you will want to ensure that you purchase the right stuff.
Garden Doctor Tips
“When purchasing bark for mulch, ensure that it is suitable for that purpose, if the chippings are too fresh, your plants could actually be worse off!”
“If using a heavy plastic, be sure to pierce it approximately every 30cm to ensure that excess water drains well!”
“If constructing a play area, ensure that you lay a membrane down to prevent unnecessary weeding!”
“Keep an eye on your bark, although it breaks down very slowly, it will still need topping up every few years!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you put bark straight into the soil?
Yes, for flower beds, bark mulch can be applied directly to the soil without the need for a membrane. If, however, you are constructing a play area or path, a weed-proof membrane is recommended.
How deep should bark chippings be?
Depending on the use, we recommend that bark should be laid anywhere between 3-inches to 10-inches.
If you are laying bark around your prized flowers, 3-inches is sufficient but if you are constructing a play area, we recommend laying the bark 10-inches deep.
How do you lay a membrane under bark?
A membrane should be laid prior to any bark being placed down. It is best used for paths and play areas or if you plan to use it on your flower bed or border, it is best to do so when the area is new and not yet planted so that you can cut the holes required for your plants to come through.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.