As a landscaping material, chipped bark can be used in a wide variety of locations, wherever weeds aren't welcome. When employed as a mulch for borders and flower beds, it should last at least three years but will need freshening regularly with new bark added and forked in to maintain its structure and appearance.
It's a tough free draining material that can be used for paths as a natural alternative to gravel or paving slabs and is an ideal way to create a safe surface for play areas underneath swings and climbing frames as the surface of the bark moves and gives way to cushion any fall while at the same time prevents a muddy area being formed.
When used for play areas it's termed as a 'loose impact attenuating surface'. Make sure that BS EN 1176 and RoSPA guidelines are adhered to, with regular maintenance on the agenda. A depth of approximately 12ins is required, but the bark will need to be inspected at regular intervals and periodically topped up.
As a mulch for plants, bark will deter pests, provide a barrier between plants and the soil and shade plant roots from intense sunlight. Best applied in the spring when the soil is moist and annual weeds not yet established. The size of the chippings doesn't really matter but depth is important, the layer should be at least 3in thick.
Permeable fabric is widely used for the same purpose as bark but, although the fabric is very good at suppressing weeds by preventing sunlight reaching the soil, it certainly isn't an attractive landscaping material in an ornamental garden and bark can be used to camouflage its appearance.
Wherever it is used, we think you'll find bark to be a versatile material, it's available in a variety of quantities from easily managed bags bought from garden centres to pallet loads that arrive on the back of a lorry, but if you have a ready source of branches pruned from trees, you can use a domestic shredder to make your own wood chippings that have a lighter appearance but are equally effective.