removing rock mulch

woburJune 10, 2007

I have several areas that were covered in 3/4 to 1 inch rocks by the previous owner. The rocks have gotten too sparse to control weeds and I would like to turn the areas in to planting beds. Does anyone have tips on how to separate the rocks from the soil short of picking them out one by one? Thanks. Wobur

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I can't think of any way to do that job other than with a good bow rake (aka garden rake), a flat shovel, and a wheel barrow. ;-(

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 2:47PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

If there aren't too many, you could just turn the soil and call it rocky soil.
I have done it both ways. The raking is an awful job...And you never ever get it all unless you sift the soil...
If you turn the rocks into the soil, you will forever have rocky soil...
I think the best way of coping with rock mulch is a combination. Rake out what you can and just incorporate what remains into the soil.
And all you who are thinking of putting down rock mulch....remember the consequences!! The process of reversing that decision is very like correcting a teenager's whim to paint their whole room, windows and all black!...Doesn't look good to begin with and is an awful job to reverse!
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 10:24PM
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Thanks for the replies. At least I know there isn't something clever that I am missing. I tried sifting and it would be a HUGE job. I think raking and removing what I reasonably can and ignoring the rest will have to do. Ugh!


    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 3:56AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

At one time I even resorted to paying my little kids a quarter for every bucket of rocks they picked out of the garden....but they soon tired of that!
Years ago my nextdoor neighbor mulched with river rock over fabric. And every 6 or 7 years, when it started collecting stuff and growing weeds, he shoveled it out onto a layer of heavy wire mesh in a wheel barrow and hosed it off....then replaced and repeated until it was all "clean and new"...
Never ever do rock mulch!! Unless you are planning on moving in 5 years or less!
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 10:50AM
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yardenman(z7 MD)

Rake, rake, rake... :)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2007 at 8:45PM
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If the area is large, you could rent a Bobcat attachment called a RockHound. It's very effective, but costs around $200 a day to rent (additional $250 for the Bobcat).

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 4:46PM
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goodness...i have the same problem. now i want to put in some roses and i have to get rid of as many rocks as possible. good luck to you and me both.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 9:16PM
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davek913(Z5 Northern IN)

My sympathies to both of you. My wife's parents lived with her before we met and her father put the white marble chips down in to 24'x5' beds in front. Jumpin' Jehosaphat, that was tedious. Not so much difficult, just...tedious.

I scooped them up the best I could with a square point shovel, dumped them into a wheelbarrow then relegated them to a remote corner of the backyard behind the shed. I also used a bow rake to get as many as I could out from the top layer of soil. I really went at it myself and probably got 95% of them out. After that I picked out whatever ones I happened to come across when planting, weeding, etc.

As a side note, I offered them in our local Freecycle chapter. One couple came and took some of them and a young newlywed couple came and took the rest for around a pond in the garden in their first home. They were so appreciative they sent me a picture of it. Neat feeling to have been able to help a young couple like that.

Oh. I hate rock mulch and would never in my life use it in a garden. Ever. Evereverevereverever.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2008 at 1:26AM
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lindaruzicka(Z6 PA)

Rock mulch!..Ugh!...This house we moved into last year has river rock everywhere I want to plant. I have moved wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow load of rocks! I ended up using them to border the new beds that I did. I'm STILL moving rocks!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2008 at 8:28AM
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I have to agree with you all! We have rock mulch around our pool and I want it GONE and even thought of giving it to freecycle if someone is willing to come and pick them up (LOL, one by one) but hubby just wants to spray the weeds but really the weeds just never go away. I suggested raking the rocks to the side and do a section at a time with new landscape fabric (after pulling as many weeds as possible, and spraying with weed killer) and putting the rocks back but he doesn't want to do that... too much work (eventually, I'll probably be the one to tackle that). We're going to try to just spray and pull for now and see if that will work. If not, I think the only way is to do like I mentioned above. I'd give them away but there are just so many, I don't think anyone would take them all and they'd need a truck!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2008 at 9:33PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Has anyone suggested piling the rocks up with a bit of soil and growing succulents in them?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 11:20AM
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roseyp8255(z8 - SC AL)

not a bad idea on the succulents - for those that it would work for!

my XH did rocks for mulch in a rose bed - needless to say, i am the one who is planning to eventually move the rocks (river rocks/pebbles) to the driveway ---- i thought of paying children to do it - but they wouldn't lol! Currently i just mow "high" through it around the roses b/c of course the grass/weeds grow THRU that blasted black landscape fabric.

when i eventually do it, i will lose weight lol!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 11:04PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Also....never do landscape you read here, eventually it grows weeds....and add rock and that fabric and you really have a problem!
Linda C

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 10:14PM
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davidandkasie(Z8 MS)

GOOD landscape fabric is worth it's weight in gold. we use it at tower sites before we put down the gravel drive. you never get weeds that way plus the gravel won't sink in the ground.

i agree that rock mulch is a major pain to remove. but in reality OVER TIMER it is no more work than wood mulch. every year you have to add in new wood mulch. wood mulch also has a bad habit of getting out of the beds during high wind storms. i bet on average i get as much wood mulch outside the bed as in it over a years time!

of course, if you rework your beds every year wood mulch is much LESS work since most of it is gone by then anyway!

it really is a matter of picking what you like and are comfortable with.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 12:13AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

davidandkasie...I wonder just how many years you have had that landscape fabric? 5?? 7?? get weeds witn landscape fabric....they set their roots down in the stuff. If you haven't seen that, wait a couple of years.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 12:56AM
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davidandkasie(Z8 MS)

lindac, we started doing this in the late 80's. so many sites are working on 20 YEARS WEED FREE. on tp of that they don't require new gravel every few years as the old gravel does not work down into the ground.

you cannot get the cheap thin fabric, you must get the thicker stuff. it is a pain to cut and is over 1/8" thick. you are talking about the cheap stuff that box stores sell, i am talkign about the real thing. thus why i said GOOD landscape fabric.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 2:20PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4) never get leaves that drift in and deteriorate? and eventually provide a place for weeds to take root? I don't believe it! How often do you spray with round up?
Weeds don't come from the ground, they come from seeds blown in or dropped by birds. If you kill the weeds before putting down mulch you never need landscape fabric....and the good stuff is as bad as the bad for allowing blown in weed seeds to take root...unless you never have any dust blow in or bits of elaves nor bird poop nor dead insects to begin to provide a growing medium between the rocks.
Besides that fabric will eventually get plugged up with silt and not allow water to drain through so your plants won't do well.
Davidandcasey....are you talking about rock a foot deep? or the usual 3 inch deep rock mulch?
Linda c

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 2:33PM
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davidandkasie(Z8 MS)

rocks about 3-4 inches deep at most. some sites are less than 1" gravel.

and no, you don't get any leaves in them because you don't want a tree close to a tower. if the tree were to fall on guides it could bring down a million dollar site!

i can tell you that our sites without fabric under the gravel have to be sprayed monthly or the weeds take over and you cannot even see the gravel. the sites with the fabric have not been sprayed at all in teh 16-17 years i PERSONALLY have been in charge of maintaining them. sure, they may get 1 weed every now and then, but i mean literally 1 oddball in a few months in an area larger than most lots houses sit on. one site the gravel alone covers an acre and we literally pull less than 3 weeds per summer.

as far as drainage, the sites are well drained. maybe rain washes seeds away as well. i don't know. all i can say is i have personally witnessed this at multiple locations. and seen similar sites with no fabric right next to us that the weeds grow fast as they cut/spray them.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 10:57PM
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It won't help if you want to plant something, but if you have a sea of rock you don't want to look at, you can do what the previous owners of my house did, they covered the rock w/ landscape fabric and put wood mulch over it. It's only a visual difference, but if that's all you're looking for, it works. The weeds I've pulled from that area have come out easily so far (but I don't think it was done all that long ago).

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 11:57PM
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I am in the process of removing a rock garden which was lined with landscape plastic before the rocks were placed. The stench is horrible. My whole backyard smells. Is this normal? I have no idea how long the rocks have been in place because I just bought the house, but I'd say at least five years of dirt has washed into the rocks. Any suggestions for how to proceed? I have about 3 inches of rocks removed. I'm down to landscape fabric in some places, but still have another two inches or rocks over the fabric in other places. In some places there are rocks under the landscape fabric, so I'm thinking that at some point, someone just put more fabric down over rocks and poured the rocks on top. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 5:55PM
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