Does Bark Really Work for Drainage in Pots?

I’m pretty sure that an image of your favorite tree will most pop up in your mind when you hear the word “bark,”—which is fine. Bark—the tree kind—is a hard natural material that’s a part of trees, protecting them from damage caused by weather or other factors, including droughts and insects, while ensuring that the plants continue to thrive despite potential threats. But can the material offer other benefits to your garden or potted plants?

Bark can work for drainage in your pots because it doesn’t have water-retention properties. The material can also serve as a protective cover for your potting mix, enriching soil quality and maintaining optimal temperature. However, bark can also affect plant growth by drying out the soil.

Still, while bark is not as effective as popular drainage alternatives like sand or terracotta chips, the material doesn’t need water to hold its weight. This property is why using bark in your pots will cause water to flow through the entire container and out through the drainage holes instead of accumulating in the soil. In the rest of this article, I’ll explain in detail the types of bark you can use and their effects on soil drainage.

What Type of Bark Works for Drainage in Pots?

You can find trees in pretty much every part of the world—except frigid Antarctica—so it is not a particularly difficult task to find bark, although the material can be pricey. And although bark also works as great mulch for your soil, you need to break it up into smaller pieces and compact it into a tight mass before using it for your potted plants. Still, you can use different types of bark for drainage in pots.

Here are a few types of bark you can use for drainage in pots:

  • Cedar bark
  • Pine bark
  • Cypress bark
  • Fir bark
  • Hemlock bark

As you’d expect, the best one for you and your plants depends on some factors, including the type of soil in your pot and what kind of plants will grow in them. And since bark can be expensive, you should also consider your budget before you make a decision.

Let’s explore the properties of the types of bark I’ve mentioned and see why they might help improve soil drainage.

Cedar Bark

Cedar bark contains catecholamines (also known as plant hormones), which encourage cell division in the root zone of your plants. Therefore, cedar bark can stimulate new plant growth if you use it on fresh soil. Most gardeners and plant owners prefer this bark because it keeps your plants moist while growing.

Still, despite its expensiveness and weird smell, cedar bark is the ideal choice if your pot contains fruits or vegetables and you want to keep pests away. Unfortunately, this bark can compact easily. 

Cedar bark can also decrease Nitrogen levels in the soil. However, you have nothing to fear because its benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Pine Bark

You can get pine bark by shredding the bark of a pine tree. It’s one of the most popular types of bark for drainage in pots, and it’s an excellent choice for plants like flowers, vegetables, and fruits that grow better in acidic soil. 

Pine bark is a lightweight material, but it still lasts longer than all of the other alternatives mentioned on this list. It also performs better at shielding your plants from extreme weather conditions.

And just like other types of bark, it can stimulate your plant’s growth by gradually decaying and increasing the soil’s humus level.

Cypress Bark

Cypress bark is a soft and fibrous type similar to pine bark but slightly more expensive. It’s an attractive material with an unmistakable pleasant smell. Therefore, it’s the best option if you’re looking for a bark that can aid your plant’s growth and improve your space’s aesthetics.

The bark is excellent for drainage because of its soft and fibrous nature, and you can use it with other types of bark to create a barrier between the soil and the planter. However, cypress bark isn’t the most environmentally-friendly option if you compare it to different barks in this article.

Still, it’s an effective material for removing excess moisture from your pots. 

Fir Bark

Fir bark is also remarkably similar to pine bark, but it’s sturdier and a much better growing medium—especially if you’re keeping potted house plants. This bark variety is known for maintaining moisture levels and absorbing odor—ideal for fixing drainage issues caused by overwatering or underwatering.

The fir bark is common and decomposes relatively quickly, so it’s easy for you to find and use for drainage or as mulch.

Hemlock Bark

The hemlock bark is an excellent option for improving pot drainage because it’s soft and spongy. It also boasts an attractive, dark color that absorbs heat-—which helps keep the soil warm. 

Hemlock bark also contains a high concentration of antioxidants, allowing plants to adapt to extreme weather conditions.

It’s also an excellent mulching material.

Pros of Using Bark for Drainage in Pots

Regardless of the price you pay for bark, its type, or its property, it’s undeniable that the material benefits your potted plants. And bark improves growing environments and soil nutrients just as much as it suppresses weed growth.

Here are a few pros of using bark for drainage in pots:

  • It helps prevent soil movement.
  • It helps plants flourish.
  • It helps to keep weeds at bay.

Let’s explore these benefits in detail.

It Helps To Prevent Soil Movement

When you grow a plant in a pot, the planter’s weight typically puts your plants’ roots at risk of breaking off and causes them to grow in weird ways. This problem prevents moisture from escaping through cracks in your container, causing dryness and nutrient loss for your plant.

Bark can help prevent this by acting as a barrier between the soil and the pot’s surface. It can also prevent water accumulation at the top layer of the soil. Therefore, the precious resource will flow through the potting mix rather than soaking down into the bottom layer of the soil, where it may harm roots or cause other overwatering-related problems.

It Helps Plants Flourish

Using bark in pots will help you keep your plants healthy by keeping the soil moist and increasing their ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. It also allows air circulation around roots to ensure that they don’t suffocate under heavy clumps of soil. 

Proper circulation makes it easier for plant roots to breathe, especially while they grow outwards into the surrounding area or spread inside the pot.

It Helps To Keep Weeds at Bay

It’s crucial for you to prevent weeds from growing in your plant’s pots since they are a waste of water and nutrients—as well as several other resources. Bark acts as a natural barrier preventing weeds from growing in your pots and competing for the essential nutrients your plants need to succeed.

And while it may seem like weeding would be an easy option, you may not always have the time to do that.

Cons of Using Bark for Drainage in Pots

While bark has many great qualities and benefits for drainage, there are drawbacks that you should consider before using it. Of course, these cons do not mean that bark’s an entirely lousy drainage material. However, I decided to include it in this article to ensure you understand all bark has to offer to your potted plants.

Here are a few cons of using bark for drainage in pots:

  • It may contain pathogens.
  • It is less likely to be compact.
  • It is less effective in dry weather conditions.

Now, let’s explore each of these drawbacks.

It May Contain Pathogens

Bark can contain pathogens that are harmful to plants. If you plan to use bark to improve drainage, I advise that you sterilize it first. You can use a pressure cooker or autoclave to kill any pathogens.

I recommend the APHRODITE 300W Mini High Temperature Sterilizer Medical Autoclave Equipment (available on if you need an excellent autoclave for sterilizing the bark. This product is practical and an easy way to kill any pathogens that might harm your house plants.

If you don’t have access to either of these methods and still want to use bark, ensure there are no insects in the soil—especially below where you plan on applying your bark. Else, those bugs will end up being trapped in their waste product when they try burrowing through the layers above them.

It Is Less Likely To Compact

Compared to other materials, bark doesn’t compact quickly over time. This quality can be a good thing if you want to use bark for drainage in pots, but it also means that the soil will have less space for water to collect. 

Therefore, depending on the plant you’re growing and its needs, you’ll have to determine whether adding bark to the soil is a good choice. 

It Is Less Effective in Dry Weather Conditions

Bark works more effectively when there’s enough water for the material to absorb and drain constantly. However, this feature could cause issues later down the road when plants need more nutrients or fertilizer than what’s available, especially during dry summer.

Keeping potted plants can be a bit of a hassle, and it’s okay if you have some questions about growing healthy greens. Most of the questions I get are typically centered around soil and drainage.

For example, I wrote a detailed article about how sand can impact drainage. It’s an excellent read and a perfect companion to this article: Can You Put Sand In The Bottom Of A Planter?


The leaves of your plants are probably wilting and yellowing because you’re not prioritizing drainage. After all, your plant’s growth depends mainly on the drainage system’s efficiency—whether in a pot or the earth.

Therefore, while light, air, nutrients, and water are vital to a plant’s well-being, you must ensure that your pot drains appropriately too.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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