Bark dust vs Mulch

Mulch is anything that is ground up to be spread on the soil as a ground cover.  From the verb, “to mulch” this simply implies that something has been ground into small pieces.  This includes wood chips, yard debris, bark dust, hazelnut shells, composted food waste, etc.  This wikipedia article even defines rock products like gravel as a type of mulch.  We are often asked what is better: bark dust vs mulch?  Our answer?  Well, what is mulch?

We aren’t trying to be facetious, but sometimes our customers are referring to composted bark, like dark hemlock, and sometimes they mean yard debris compost like Lady Island Mulch.  If they’re from Hershey, Pennsylvania, they might mean cocoa mulch.  Yes, really!  Indeed, most of the time, it’s the yard debris or “the black stuff” they are looking for.  But we often have to ask clarifying questions to make sure we’re on the same page.  There is some debate regarding what is best for the soil and this blog post aims to address those questions.

Terminology:

 Yard debris compost is a better name for what many refer to as “mulch“.  It’s whatever is thrown into your yard debris bin, ground up, then put into a pile to compost for a year or more.  When in a pile, heat is generated while the yard debris breaks down, and everything turns a blackish color.

Bark and Bark dust are, as the name indicates, the bark of the tree.  This is a by-product of the lumber companies, as it is simply waste for them.  The bark is knocked off of the tree at the mill, we pick it up and bring it to our site.  When it is unground, it is called “hog fuel” as it is sometimes used in the mill for power.  Bark Blowers grinds all of our bark at a medium setting.  Once ground up, it is officially “bark dust“.  Fresh bark dust varies in color from an orange-red to a rusty red.

Composted Bark is composted in the same way yard debris is, in a very large pile.  In this case, it is only bark, nothing else.  The composting turns the bark a medium to dark brown color.  Our composted bark products include medium dark hemlock, and medium dark fir.

 

Pros and Cons:

Yard Debris Compost Pros

  • recycling old plant matter
  • composted products are good for the soil
  • aesthetically pleasing

Yard Debris Cons

  • unsure of ingredients (usually it can be anything from woody debris like twigs and tree limbs to weeds)
  • woody debris depletes the soil of nitrogen
  • odorous

 

Fresh Barkdust Pros

  • recycling a by-product of the timber industry
  • neutral PH when breaking down into soil
  • adds humus to soil over time
  • pure Oregon bark

Fresh Barkdust Cons

  • may not be the preferred color
  • not composted

Composted Barkdust Pros

  • recylcing a by-product of the timber industry
  • neutral PH when breaking down into soil
  • adds humus to soil over time, breaks down faster than fresh bark
  • pure Oregon bark

Composted Barkdust Cons

  • may not be as dark as recycled yard debris compost – if color is the main issue

Conclusion:

As organic gardeners, we prefer to know what is the product we are spreading over our flower beds and that our children are playing in.  We do carry recycled yard debris for those of you who really want the darkest product for decorative purposes.  You’ll often hear that bark depletes the soil of nitrogen, but bark has a neutral PH when it breaks down into the soil.  When logs are de-barked at the mill, there will be some wood that makes its way into the mix.  Wood will deplete the soil of nitrogen more than bark.  There is a lot of wood in the recycled yard debris, which we think makes it a bad candidate for soil amendment.