I despise barkdust. Barkdust=death for plants.Barkdust=slivers for kids. Barkdust=fleas for dogs.
When we bought our house almost seven years ago it had layer after layer of barkdust and absolutely no live vegetation with the exception of some bushes and fir trees. It was almost impossible to dig a hole in some parts of the yard. Barkdust provides no nutrients for the soil and essentially leaches any nutrients out of it. Why do you think it helps keep weeds away? Weeds don't get water and thus they die. That's good news right? It is if you are after the weeds, but it isn't good if it does the same to plants you want to grow.
Now barkdust does have its place. Let's say I had a vacation home and when I was there I didn't want to spend my time maintaining my palatial property? In this situation barkdust is good. Let's say I was elderly and couldn't do yard work, barkdust would be great. However, if I was someone who loves plants (uhhhm me), and wants lush vegetation barkdust would not be good. You get it?
So what do you use instead? Yard debris compost. In some parts of the country it is called mulch. In my area people go to the "dump" and drop off all their yard debris. The garbage men dump yard debris here too. They take the debris and put it into huge piles (we are talking three story high piles) and let it compost. It stinks, it smokes, but in the end you get this:
People like me drive our trucks past the barkdust and get a scoop of yard debris compost for $15 a yard. Yep it is that cheap. We then drive it home and spread it on thick. I'm talking 2-3 inches thick the first time and an inch every other year after that (If my back could handle it I would do it every year). The result? Beautiful gardens. Mulch helps to keep the weeds down at first, but will eventually feed them. The good news is they are easy to pop out because the looseness of the mulch is a dream. I love the way the dark, almost black, color of the mulch plays off my plants.
Seven years later I am seeing the benefits of the mulch. I have hellebore seedlings, hosta starts and other plants are thriving. I can actually dig a hole in the soil now too. My goal is to team up with a local garden club in a few years and have people actually visit my garden. I am known to take people on tours when they drop by. My sister will roll her eyes and say, "Here she goes again, another garden tour by Dickers". Yep, mulch works that well.