“… the truly formal garden is all about showing off your ability to groom and control. The more attention you pay to detail and maintenance, the better your garden will look, so don’t go there if you take a casual approach to chores. Consider rethinking the way you mow. The perfectionist will always mow lawns in straight lines parallel to the main axis.”
Xanthe White , NZ Gardener (May 2013).
Pine trees produce a prodigious amount of loose bark and given the number of pine trees we grow in this country, pine bark has become a garden staple. Ground up and composted, it is now the major source of potting mix. As a renewable resource, it has done a great deal to save the peat and sphagnum bogs formerly raided for this purpose. Chipped to various grades, it is widely used as garden mulch. But, you need to understand that the reason pine bark is so useful is because it is remarkably inert and stable. It takes years to rot down so it does next to nothing to condition the soil even though it is an organic product. When a whole branch or trunk is chipped or mulched, it will break down quickly and add carbon content, but not straight bark.
So stable is pine bark that we use large flakes from our trees as an informal garden edging, stacked as you might stack thin pieces of old concrete. It lasts for years. If you are buying bark mulch, the mixes of bark and pine fibre will look more natural (and the fibre will break down faster, adding some nutrient to the soils). The chunkier bark nuggets look a little… clunky but will last for ages. The finer screened bark mulches will look smart in that urban landscaped look but can wash away in heavy rains. I have not seen the horror of died bark mulches that are favoured in Australia. Don’t go there. Your garden will not look better for being mulched in red, tan, blue or green pine bark.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.