Is Wood Bark The Best Mulching Material?

Everyone knows bark mulch, knows how it looks and knows that you can use it to mulch the garden. But, of course, there are other mulch materials.

Therefore, the question arises whether bark mulch is really the best mulch material or whether another material is better for mulching?

In this article, we will get to the bottom of these questions and find out which is the best material for mulching.

The best organic mulch material is cocoa shells, because they are officially approved as a natural, organic fertilizer and provide an ideal, long-lasting fertilizing effect in the garden. In addition, their slightly curved shape ideally insulates the beds, keeping soil temperature and moisture constant and preventing weeds. Mulching with cocoa shells also provides a uniform appearance in the garden and, at about one euro per kilogram of material, is in the middle range of all organic mulch materials.

What is the best mulch material?

The well-known bark mulch, pine bark, turf, compost, leaves and so many other mulch materials to choose from.

With so much to choose from, it’s easy to get confused and wonder which of all these mulch materials is best for your garden?

Since we generally differentiate between organic and mineral mulch materials, I did just that for my review.

By the way, if you want to know in more detail what the differences are between organic and mineral mulch amterials and what the advantages and disadvantages are, check out the article I linked to on the right here.

So first, let’s take a look at what the best organic mulch material is….

What is the best organic mulch material?

Now you’re probably wondering how I came up with this choice.

In order to find out which is the best organic mulch material, I picked six criteria by which I evaluated all materials.

The following criteria should be considered when choosing the right mulch material or these factors were important to me personally.

Fertilizing effect

Although mulching has a number of advantages, the main focus is also on fertilizing the soil.

Because (most) mulch materials decompose over time, nutrients are released into the soil.

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Thus, the plants in the bed are fertilized slowly but steadily and the yield is increased or the inflorescence is extended or optimized.


Despite the initial extra work involved in preparing and spreading mulch, it should save work in the medium to long term.

Mainly by suppressing weed growth and reducing the need for weeding.

So the more durable the mulch material is, the longer you will be saved labor.

Weed protection

In addition to longevity, of course, it also matters how well the mulch suppresses weeds in the first place.

Even if the mulch lasts a very long time, but does nothing to stop weed growth during that time, it has failed to achieve that goal.

Thus, I also evaluate how well the particular mulch keeps weeds out.


Appearance is often cited as a reason for mulching. People want to create a uniform, well-kept appearance in the garden.

Some mulch materials certainly help beds look uniform. Other materials don’t quite accomplish this.

So I’m evaluating which mulch material creates a nicer, more well-kept appearance.

Balancing soil temperature and moisture

In addition to longevity, of course, how well the mulch suppresses weeds in the first place also plays a role.

Even if the mulch lasts a very long time, but does nothing to stop weed growth during that time, it has failed to achieve that goal.

Thus, I also evaluate how well the particular mulch keeps weeds out.

Cost per kilogram

In addition to longevity, of course, how well the mulch suppresses weeds in the first place also plays a role.

Even if the mulch lasts a very long time, but does nothing to stop weed growth during that time, it has failed to achieve that goal.

Thus, I also rate how well the particular mulch keeps weeds out.

The criteria or the following evaluation is based partly also on my personal feeling whereby I paid attention to an as objective as possible evaluation. Depending on the goal you pursue with mulching, the weighting of the factors may differ. Nevertheless, you are of course welcome to add further criteria or adjust the assessment for your own evaluation.

1st place. cocoa shells as the best mulching material.

Cocoa shells* are the perfect mulch material for the garden. They meet all the requirements you should have for a good mulch material.

First of all, they have an ideal fertilizing effect. In fact, cocoa shells are officially approved as a natural organic fertilizer with a very good ratio of nitrogen, phosphate, potassium oxide and magnesium oxide. No other mulch material is officially approved as a fertilizer at the same time.

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In addition, cocoa shells are very durable and provide very good weed protection due to their density.

Similar to bark mulch or pine bark as well, cocoa shells provide balanced soil temperature and moisture and an even appearance.

Probably the only drawback with cocoa shells can be the price. Depending on the quantity purchased, this can only be found in the mid-range when comparing organic mulch materials.

Thus, cocoa shells are ahead in 5 of 6 categories evaluated. However, since I rate the importance of the fertilizing effect higher than the other categories, cocoa shells end up in 1st place of the best mulch materials.

At place 2. of the best mulch materials: pine bark and wood chips.

In 2nd place of the best mulch materials are pine bark* and wood chips*.

The two materials are tied in 5 out of 6 categories: both pine bark and wood chips make a very good, long-lasting mulch layer in the garden, providing optimal weed protection.

This high-volume mulch layer also provides a stable soil temperature and optimizes the moisture control of the beds.

Thanks to the uniform material, both in structure and color, you get a uniform image in the garden with mulching by pine bark and wood chips.

Last but not least, these two materials are the cheapest in the comparison and cost less than 1 euro per kilogram.

Rank 3. of the best mulching materials: compost and bark mulch.

The so well-known bark mulch* lands together with compost in this comparison only on the 3rd place of the best mulch materials.

Both materials perform very well in 4 out of 6 categories.

Bark mulch, much like the 1st and 2nd place materials, produces a uniform, durable and well-insulating mulch layer that not only regulates temperature and moisture but also keeps weeds out.

Due to the fact that bark mulch is obtained mainly from conifers, it can have a partially acidic effect on the beds. Thus, an optimal fertilizing effect does not take place.

In addition, bark mulch is in the middle range, at about 1.50 euros per kg, in terms of cost per kilogram.

Compost, on the other hand, is completely free when used from your own compost pile.

Compost also provides a uniform appearance in the garden and optimally insulates the soil, so that there is a constant soil climate.

During composting, i.e. the decomposition of the waste, many valuable nutrients and minerals are produced, as is well known. When the compost is spread on the beds as mulch, these nutrients enter the soil, which has an optimal fertilizing effect.

Want to know more details, like pros and cons, on the best mulch materials as well as an overview of other mulch materials?

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Then it’s best to check out the article I’ve linked to on the right here… right now.

What’s better than bark mulch?

Cocoa shells, as well as pine bark or wood chips, are better than bark mulch for mulching your garden and flower beds.

Cocoa shells in particular (like these*) provide a much better fertilizing effect than bark mulch.

Pine bark (like this one*) has a slightly weaker fertilizing effect than cocoa shells, but still a better one than bark mulch at a cheaper price per kilo.

Wood chips (like these*) also have similar properties to bark mulch except for the fertilizing effect, and can be used as an inexpensive alternative, especially for mulching paths.

What is the best mineral mulch material?

The best mineral mulch material, unlike the organic alternatives, is mainly in the eye of the beholder.

This is because almost all mineral mulch materials have very similar properties and differ primarily in structure (size, grain size, roundness/corners), color and price.

So depending on taste and size of wallet, the best mineral mulch materials differ from person to person.

The purpose of mulch, that is, to cover an open garden area, all materials fulfill. Small differences in water absorption capacity and possible, contained mineral substances (such as a small amount of lime in diabase) usually do not play a major role when choosing a mineral mulch material.

If you still want to know what the differences are between the various mineral mulch materials such as gravel, chippings, lava, shells or slate quarry, then it is best to look at this article.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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