achieving a nice look without bark

nwgardengirl(7)May 25, 2007

Hi ya, first post and I am a relatively new gardener. I just moved into a new construction home last year and this is the first spring that I have been able to get into the gardens that I have created on my tiny suburban lot.

My problem is I love the look and the smell of beauty bark but it seems to wreck havic on my gardens; it chokes the tender plants, it fades quickly and it inevitably will find its way under my skin as I am gardening - besides the fact that my darling hubby detests the stuff.

Is there alternatives to mulching and keeping the weeds reduced in my gardens without using beauty bark. I cant use the cocoa hulls because of my bulldog, that would head straight for them when he goes outside.

Since I am new this is what is in my garden this year - please excuse me if I am a novice and dont know what varieties I have.




Asiatic Lillies


a Little Kim lilac

one little azalea

one small rody

some grasses (development placed them before we bought the house)

some daffs (yea - STILL blooming!)

and some primroses

and hostas

please help - I feel like such an incompetent when it comes to gardening!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I prefer cedar chips from a cedar mill - when somebody else is paying for the mulch. Otherwise I use tree service wood chips. Can't beat the price.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bark Mulch

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 8:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

how and where do you get tree service wood chips?

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 9:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There's lots of alternatives:

Shredded leaves - my favorite. I've never seen them sold, but you should be able to get lots of them in the fall either from your own leaves or 'stolen' on trash pickup day.

Straw or Hay - this isn't the look for everyone, but it's pretty cheap.

Hazelnut hulls - good on areas where you want it for a long time, or where you will be walking because it doesn't stick to your feet. Squirrels will sort it very carefully on your behalf. My dog sometimes eats a couple, but it doesn't seem to bug her.

Various other parts of my garden are mulched with big bark, little bark, compost, gravel, and cobblestones that collect in my diggings.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 10:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm a fan of gravel but that's not everyone's cup of tea. You don't want to be redoing things over and over because it's easy to get soil mixed up in the gravel which sort of defeats the purpose. As far as the best combination of plant health and weed supression goes, you really can't beat wood chips, though some don't like the look of them.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 10:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

>how and where do you get tree service wood chips?From tree services. Call some up or look for a crew working nearby.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 11:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
flowerfan2(z8/ WA)

How about composted steer manure. A lot of local dairy's sell it. I know Faith dairy in Tacoma does and it is good stuff. You might check local dairy's in your area for availability.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 11:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
CathyJ(USDA-8 West WA)

Welcome to the wonderful world of gardening!

I am going to start mulching some of my beds with a fine grind of bark which has been composted by the supplier, thereby giving it a nice, black color which looks like soil.

You might check with your local supplier and see what is available in your area.

Cathy in Olympia

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 11:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

thank you for all of the suggestions!

I really dont mind weeding so I would go without mulch except what little I do know means mulch is a protectant as well as a weed barrier of sort.

I will look into these different options!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 11:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
silver_creek(z8a WA)

Organic mulches also add to the soil as they decay, so there's another reason for their use. And they help conserve moisture. I also use tree service chips and in alternate years composted dairy manure. For some areas in our garden, we use gravel (scree/rock garden areas where we do not want to enrich the soil), but ian is right; the look is not for everyone and it is best used where you will not disturb it.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 8:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

To me, mulch is a temporary groundcover until the living ones can take over. Woodchips provide a good cost effective base. A thin cosmetic coating of bark can be used on the top if you like that look. A lot of people do. Some people even rake up the old bark and throw it away, then redo the yard with new bark! How dumb is that? Why not just put a new coating on top of the old?
I, and my wallet, prefer woodchips and groundcovers. Woodchips for the beds as well as the paths. That way I have no borders to maintain. Except for the grass, of course.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 9:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

My DH is a wood turner, he works mostly with maple so I have an endless supply of shavings, they work really good as mulch. I'd really like it if they were a darker color but they do fade quickly and hey they're free. The daylilies seem to love being mulched with this stuff, they've never looked better.


    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 10:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

We use composted yard debris that we buy from the same bark suppliers. It is cheap. I hate gardening in bark dust!

My neighbor uses wood chips but they are too big for me. I prefer the fine compost. I like the black color too.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 8:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
cuddlepoo(Seattle, Wa)

I also like compost for this purpose, Cedar Grove. I prefer the bulk stuff to the bagged just because the bagged is finer. It's darker than bark which I also like. I may try a compost/small bark combo this year.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 11:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
xantippe(8 Portland OR)

I want to ask all of you who use compost instead of mulch--how does it work? Don't the weeds just grow like crazy in it? I, too, hate mulch/barkdust etc, and would love to use compost instead, but I'm scared!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 12:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
daphnexduck(Z8 Tacoma, WA)

Botann, I clicked on your photo to see if I could get a larger view, and BOY! Was I impressed - both with your photography and your garden. Thanks for sharing.

Daphne in Tacoma

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 12:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

No, the weeds do not grow like crazy in it. Most of them are smothered by it. We buy the medium grade. I do have weeds but that is because I'm behind in spreading another layer of compost. It does break down but since our clay soil is helped by it. I don't mind spreading it every year.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 1:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Thankyou Daphnexduck. I love to landscape and did it for a living for years before I retired a couple of years ago.
A lot of people have seen my album site. Just over 248,000 with over 6,000 downloads! I'm quite surprised.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pictures of my garden

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 2:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

What a beautiful garden! Super pictures and thanks so much for sharing.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 3:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

When I was landscaping, when the bark went down, the gardening was pretty much finished. Remember that as a landscaper, I was installing yards mainly for the nongardner. As a person who works in the garden and always making changes, I much prefer wood chips and compost over bark with slivers. (Hemlock bark does not have slivers like Doug Fir bark.

For me, it all comes down to woodchips. If I disturb things, there are always more woodchips and groundcovers to cover it up. With the cost of bark, that might not always be the case.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 11:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I make my own compost and use it solely as my mulch. Looks natural and does wonders for my plants.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 4:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

xantippe - I have to disagree with buyorsell888 regarding weeds not growing like crazy in uncovered compost. I have a large area that I was not able to cover completely with bark. Last year, we put about 4" of compost from Cedar Grove on the entire area (about 3500 sq ft), then we only were able to cover half with about 4" of bark mulch. This past spring when the weeds started growing, the compost side was covered with many different weeds. The bark side only had weeds that were blown in and they were very easy to pull out since they were only rooted in the bark. Also, the bark side is holding moisture and generally easier to maintain.

nwgardengirl - If you don't want to go with bark, I would agree with chopped dried leaves, or straw. DON'T GET ANY HAY. Hay has seeds and other things in there that you don't want. It is very important to put something down to retain moisture. As our summers are very hot and dry and without it, your young plants will dry up quickly unless you are watering every day.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2007 at 1:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Irrigated alfalfa hay from Eastern Washington is virtually weed free. Locally grown grass hay for horses is where you're going to find weeds.

I'm sticking with wood chips.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2007 at 3:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bramble_farm(Zone 7)

After I weed an area, I mulch with horse manure. I use fresh manure and save the old stuff for planting holes. The manure is free, will break down within 6 months, and does a great job at smothering weeds. The manure is mixed with shavings/sawdust and I haven't had any problems with it burning plants, even tender young plants. It bleaches fast, so won't give the "dark soil" look, but it also becomes very sharp and I don't have to deal with slugs and snails crawling over it or hiding under it. I don't water the garden in the summer (on a well) and started with heavy clay soils, so the horse manure has been ideal for my garden.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 4:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
pianojuggler(z8b WA)

Consider dense groundcovers. Check the groundcover forum on gardenweb for ideas. I have a couple varieties of wooly thyme and creeping thyme that grow densely enough to prevent most weeds... and the seeds that do land on top and sprout pull out easily. Thymes do best in nice sunny locations. I am currently playing with some sedums and raoulia as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Groundcovers Forum

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 1:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My neighbors used round rock around all of their plants. It looks pretty nice and with weed fabric under it it's low maintenance. A little more pricey at first, but pays for itself in the long run since you don't have to reapply every year.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 3:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nwnatural(zone 8 PNW)

I'm going to chime in about the compost. The look is very lush and dark, but the weed seeds find it an irresistable growing medium. My yard is in somewhat of a valley, so all of the neighbors who don't keep their yards well weeded, send me plenty of weed seeds with the wind. I could not keep up with the amount of weeds sprouting in my compost every day. However, if you don't mind weeding, then maybe this is the product for you.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 5:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mdvaden_of_oregon(NW Oregon)

One thing about tree chips, you don't usually know all that's in there. You can get seeds from trees, and raked up weed seeds. I know that for a fact - it's part of my trade. Also, years ago, I'd get 30 truck loads a year for our 2 acres from multiple tree services. Its just that I knew how to keep the weeds in check.

You indicated that you don't want weed problems.

Try mulching with the finely ground mulches that are available.

Cedar is highly flammable - so be very careful where you use it. Fires are rare, but they happen: fireworks, cigarettes, etc.. Don't use cedar around the trunks of rare or exceptionally old specimens.

Hemlock bark may be an option. Bark can discolor, but I'll lightly cultivate it sometimes - partially refreshing the appearance.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 11:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Regardless of the type of mulch you use, you WILL eventually get weeds. It's just a simple fact of nature and there are no 100% weed preventing mulches. Depending on the texture, thickness of the application and the quality of the mulch itself, you should see a significant reduction in weed development with any type of mulch. Quality is important - municipal composted yard waste, like Cedar Grove, is often not heated to a high enough degree to kill off weed seeds and you can get some very unfortunate travelers into your garden with these types of products. And rock mulch is NOT low maintenance. Weeds develop in rock mulches just as readily as in any organic products and they are more of a PITA to remove from these also. Also difficult to remove leaves, plant droppings and any other windblown debris from them as well.

I use a bagged compost product that has NO weed seeds in it and while weeds will appear from time to time, especially if I don't refesh the mulch often enough, they are extremely easily removed from the loose, friable material. You can also get compost mulch that has a preemergent product included in it (Whitney Farms Weed Whompin' Mulch) or add your own, either corn gluten meal or Preen.

I prefer compost over any other type of mulch product because of its texture (mixed planting beds with lots of perennials and groundcovers - wood chips or bark just doesn't cut it), color and the nurients and textural improvement it adds to the soil as it breaks down. The need to apply supplemental fertilizers if you use a compost-based mulch is pretty much nonexistant.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2007 at 11:06AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I feel your frustration. We have gone the whole gambit over 15 years --- bark, wood chips, mulch, rocks, hazel nuts, ground covers, etc. We have some pine trees that shed LOTS of needles every year. And the shade is fairly dense. Grass and ground covers do poorly, but my wife plants hostas, ferns, vinca, and other shade loving plants. But we have a lot of space that is bare. My wife fills in with pansies, begonias, etc and some pots to create a nice garden. This means she needs to "work" the bare spots. Sitting or being on your knees in hazel nuts is not fun, nor are hands full of slivers from bark. Our experience is this:

Bark slivers. It also depletes nutrients from the soil. It is chunky and it works up against the stems of more fragile plants. Didn't want to stay where we put it.

Mulch is nice, but breaks down fast. Also, kids and dogs track it into the house. Add a little dust and rain (we get a lot of rain) and it gets messy.

Straw is difficult to work with and looks strange in a finished garden.

Hazel nuts last forever, but the shells are hard and cut your hands, feet, and knees. And it is expensive. Our dogs won't walk on it.

Ground covers don't grow well in our garden area and when they do, seem to clash with the garden purpose.

Rocks looked weird except as border edges. Gravel looked like someone messed up, it wouldn't stay in place, and got "dirty" looking fast. OH--- sand was a disaster!

Wood chips, particularly hemlock, worked the best as long as not too chunky. They will break down over time and need to be refreshed. But my wife doesn't like the way it looks over a large area near the house; it looked dirty and unkempt except when new.

We ended up using patio tiles for parts of the garden, ground covers, and wood chips. Sounds weird, but looks nice. The point is, each landscape is unique and you need to decide the function and activity. Is it a garden where you plant other flowers (annual) mixed with perennials? Shade or sun? Small or large area? Traffic or proximity to house? Etc, etc, etc. These factors influence what will work best.

In our case, in the final analysis, the trees took care of the situation for us; nice thick mats of pine needles that we left alone! LOL!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 11:27AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I like Pine needle mulch...under pines.
Pine needles of the longer needled varieties like Ponderosa can hang up in the shrubs below, giving them a less than attractive appearance.
I have one large Ponderosa that I had to remove some shrubs and small trees from under it because of that problem. Now I'm thinking of removing the Ponderosa. It doesn't look like the ones in central and eastern Washington and Oregon that are growing in a drier, colder, and hotter climate than we have. Mine is more open and lax, not having the character of those on 'the other side'. I could use the space it takes up.
Below is a friend's chipper here parks here with his chipper truck. Nice to have all those chips at the end of the day.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 2:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Couple of points to clarify.

Bark used as a mulch or topdressing does not deplete soils of nutrients. Any more than wood chips do. It is only when these wood-based products are incorporated into the soil and begin to decompose that any nutrient tie-up occurs.

'Mulch' is a generic term and means anything applied to the top of the soil surface. One can mulch with grass clippings, rocks, shredded cardboard or any other similar type product. There is no single item or product that is considered to be 'mulch'.

I agree that what one uses is completely up to personal choice and availability. I love hazelnut shells. They make a great sound when you walk on them, they are longlasting as a mulch or pathway material (but do NOT last forever) and a fresh layer provides a constant source of entertainment for the neighborhood squirrels hunting for leftover nut meat.

But compost is my mulch of choice for most purposes.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 4:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Have anyone had luck with layers of newspaper then wood chips on top? I'm worried that the paper will block water absorbing before it composts. I've used it in an open spot waiting for planting in several years and it's great for stopping weeds.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 11:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

7 years after this thread was started I'm still using compost and still not having a weed problem with it....

What has changed is the amount I have to use as my plants have grown to the point that I have very little bare soil left....

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 10:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wynswrld98(z7 WA)

Then you're lucky because weeds sure grow in my thick layers of Cedar Grove Compost!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 1:12AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tacomagirl(USDA 7, Sunset 5)

Add me to the compost-lovers heap. I like TAGRO here in Tacoma. :)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 2:23PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Ideas for ground cover and evergreen shrubs?
Have been cleaning up a landscape that had been neglected...
August Bloomers
We have a family reunion planned for our house in mid...
What seeds r u planting now this early warm spring?
My arugula is up fine but carrots havent germinated...
Anyone "wintersowing" tomatoes in the PNW?
I wintersow/spring sow everything else and have for...
Good Cover Crop... Now What?
We have had a mild winter here in the PNW and the cover...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™