Bark Dust: The Definitive Guide for Portland Landscapes

by Ben Bowen

Everything Portland Needs To Know About Bark Dust

The most underrated way to improve your landscaping? Bark dust. It's nothing more than pieces of bark and wood that have been run through a grinder. Simply spreading it over the open spaces in your beds will make them look fresh and finished.

What Kinds of Bark Dust Are There?

Fir is the most common, with hemlock a close second. Both are available in a variety of sizes and shades. In general, bark dust that has recently been processed is light brown or orange and fairly coarse. Older product is finer and dark brown or black.

Fine Dark Hemlock

Fine Dark Hemlock

What kind should you use? For the finest and most natural look go with a fine dark fir. Imagine going into the forest on Mt. Hood. Scrape the top layer of recently fallen leaves and debris and you will see a dark layer of composting organics. That look is what you want for your landscape beds.

If you want something bright and fresh then choose a younger mix. The larger, brighter barks will also last a bit longer in the yard.

What's the deal with hemlock? Dislike splinters or have a dog or child that is sensitive to them? Then hemlock, which naturally is less "splintery", is a great choice.

How Thick Should My Bark Dust Be?

Spread it 2"-3" thick initially. After a couple weeks it will settle and pack, being only and inch thick or so.

Where Can I Buy Bark Dust?

Many Portland area nurseries and stone yards carry bark dust. Is there one in your neighborhood?

There are also a number of companies that produce and sell bark dust, both to landscapers and the public. On the east side of Portland you have Mcfarlane's. Closer to Lake Oswego, West Linn, and Wilsonville is S&H. On the west side Grimm's Fuel and Best Buy Landscape Supply will have everything you need.

If you have a truck you can pick up your own, but having bark dust delivered is usually easier. If you don't want to spread bark dust yourself consider having it blown. Redbark, Bark Dusters, and Bark Blowers all provide this service.

How Much Bark Dust or Mulch Do I Need?

To figure this out decide how thick you want it applied (if blown it will be 3") and where you want it to go. Then measure the areas the bark will go and get your total square feet.

At 2" thick you get 1100 square feet from 1 unit of bark dust. At 3" thick one unit will cover 750 square feet. 

How much is 1 unit of bark dust? 200 cubic feet or 7.407 cubic yards. Imagine the bed of a small truck, full of barkdust. That's about 1 yard.

Bark Dust FAQ:

What are bark chips? Bark chips are pieces of cedar heart wood that have been ground into fairly large chunks. Chips are well suited to play areas and certain kinds of paths.

What is the difference between compost and bark dust? Compost is a mix of decomposing organics, which can include leaves and food waste. Bark dust is only wood waste. As a result it will last much longer in the landscape.

Use bark dust in landscape beds and compost in garden beds, where you plant vegetables.

Does bark dust have weeds, termites, or fleas in it? Usually the answer is absolutely not. If the producer of your bark dust is following industry standards the pile of bark delivered to your home is essentially heat sterilized. As the bark decomposes in the yard it produces heat. The piles are turned frequently so that all parts of the pile go through this process.

However, if you get bark from a small yard that does not follow these guidelines you are on your own. All the companies I listed above follow the proper procedure.

Fine Dark Fir in Forest Heights

Fine Dark Fir in Forest Heights

Will my bark dust prevent weeds. Yes, sort of. And then no.... For 4-6 weeks you will get some weed suppression from bark dust in your landscaped beds. Sun is prevented from hitting bare soil, which helps. Also, the Ph of your soil is affected. This keeps weeds to a minimum for a little while as well.

So I should put weed barrier down? In most cases the answer is no, please no! Weeds will still appear in the gaps in the barrier, and eventually, over the barrier. When you rake you will snag those pesky edges and pull up sections. If you have any uneven areas in the yard you will find that bark dust washes off the barrier and you will see the barrier peaking through.

In most instances weed barrier just doesn't work the way you want it to.

How do you apply bark dust? Use a flat shovel to gently spread it. Focus on even coverage. Once all the beds are covered, go over them with a rake to smooth them.

Bonus pro tip: take your leaf rake and flip it over so the tine edges are pointing up. Use the back side to smooth bark dust without moving too much of it around.

How often should I bark dust? Every 2-4 years, depending on the bark you apply and how you maintain it. If you have large trees and have to rake or blow their leaves all fall you may need to add bark dust more frequently.

Barkdust. Any Questions? 

If so just ask in the comments below or via social media. We are happy to help!