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Landscaping With Rock vs. Mulch


If you have built a new home or decided to update the landscaping around your home you have probably been faced with this decision.  Should you use landscaping rocks or some type of mulch in your garden beds?

The fact is there are good reasons for both, but let's break it down:

Longevity and Maintenance

Landscaping rock will last much longer than mulch.  Mulch must be topped off every year or two because it slowly decomposes over time.  This means less annual maintenance with rock than with mulch, but the annual mulch maintenance only amounts to less than a day's work for most people.

rock offers a clean look and low maintenancePermanence

Landscaping rock is quite permanent.  What I mean is, moving it is an unpleasant chore.  The good side of that is that a heavy rain or excessive wind won't move it.  Mulch is much easier to move, so if you like to tinker with the size and shape of your garden beds or want to transplant your tulips in another spot, mulch will make your life a lot easier. However, a heavy rainfall can wash your mulch away, especially on a hill.

Soil Health

Mulch naturally breaks down and enriches the soil  Your plants will appreciate that.  Rock does nothing to enrich the soil, so you may find that you need to fertilize a bit more to make plants look their best. 

Heat

Rocks get hot in the sun and can literally bake your plants as the temperature near the rocks can be quite a bit higher than the normal air temperature.  For things like trees or shrubs this shouldn't matter, but for flowers it can make a huge difference.  Mulch remains cooler and causes much less stress on your plants when it is hot outside.

mulch looks natural and improves wate retention

Appearance

Rock provides a clean look and comes in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and colors to suit your tastes.  You'd better like the kind you picked, however, because changing it later will be no fun.  Mulch looks more natural but also more rustic and comes in different sizes, shapes, and colors.  However, color is pretty limited to reds, browns, and chocolates.  Unlike rock, if you decide to change color or type you can simply make the switch next year with an inch of the new mulch on top.

Cost

Mulch is generally cheaper than rock initially, but remember that mulch needs to be topped off every year or two, so in the long run the rock is likely to be cheaper.

Weeds

Both will do a fine job at stopping weeds.  With rock a weed barrier is almost always used.  Eventually, however, dirt and debris will accumulate above the weed barrier, creating a growing medium for weeds, so the weed barrier only works for a certain number of years.  Mulch does not require a weed barrier to be effective as long as it is topped off every year or two.  It will create a natural weed barrier and the mulch that has turned into soil will always be under the surface so weeds don't get a good chance to take root.

Insects

Mulch can be a home for insects that is less likely with rock.

Conclusion

So, now that you know the pros and cons of landscaping rock vs. mulch you can make the correct decision for your yard.  If you still need some help here are a few things to consider in making your choice.

If you have a landscaping bed that will be permanent, is on a hill, will not hold annual flowers or small perennials, or if you have lots of leaves to rake in the Fall, rock might be your best choice.

If you have a landscaping bed that you want to adapt over the years, moving and replacing perennials as you go, is not on a hill or can be retained with a retaining wall, and you don't mind a day of topping it off every year, mulch is for you.

In the end it is a matter of personal preference.  Whatever your decision on using rock vs. mulch, as long as you know the pros and cons, you will be ready.

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2 comments

user avatar
Written by Sgolis, 3 years ago
I landscape with rock along the perimeter as it is a good way to prevent ticks. I like working with hardscapes as it adds texture to your yard and garden. Great article I have shared your content: +1 and a tweet.
user avatar
Written by landocheese, 3 years ago
You're right about rock adding texture. It can also add great color. I prefer mulch because I am always changing things but I have used both.

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