Mulch or Rocks?

mrfritz44July 27, 2005

I just bought a property with beautiful flower beds everywhere. The last owner said that it took 14 yards of red colored mulch to do the whole property and this can get expensive on a yearly basis to say the least. As an alternative, I'm thinking of removing the mulch and putting down red stone.

Can someone tell me what the pros and cons of doing this are? I've never used the stone, but I see how nice it looks initially and I'm wondering if its worth the potentially reduced maintenance.



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mulch only is expensive when you're paying a team to spread it- or when you're buying it in 1/2 yard bags from home Despot. beyond that, it's cheaper than landscaping crews, cheaper than hand weeding, and sure as heck cheaper than poisons, chemicals, and everything else you will need to make up for a lack of mulch.

Rock mulch is for dry landscapes where you don't have a lot of windblown weed seeds trying to move in- and the only effective way to WEED a stone bed is with a flame weeder, or chemicals that will likely kill your beautiful beds as well.

not to mention that it is not much more 'stable' than wood mulch, and you will be finding it migrating during heavy rains.

and this is above and beyond the fact that rocks have no nutritional value at all, which makes them ok for a walkway, but not so good for a growing plant (mulch breaks down and releases the former tree's energy back into the soil)

now- I'm not a fan of the colored mulch, since the dye itself is hardly organic, and what its hiding is all too often pressure treated lumber, ground up for mulch. I suppose that isn't TOO much of a problem if you're not growing veggies- or ever intending too...

but I just don't get dyed mulch on an aesthetic level, either, since it looks faker than 'irish' red hair on Jennifer Lopez.

your best bet- if the yard is big enough to need 14 yards of mulch- then it's big enough for a compost heap, wherin goes all your kitchen garbage, lawn clippings, fallen leaves- and out will come oh, at least 6 yards of healthy, natural mulch in the form of old-fashioned compost.

and if you want to ADD to that with a few yards of triple-ground wood mulch, that's great-and reasonable.

if you're still in touch with the owner, did they give you a catalog of what's planted where? that would give you a HUGE advantage over the garden.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 11:47AM
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waplummer(Z5 NY)

I use leaves for mulch. I have a couple beds where I use pea-size gravel of a neutral gray color. I hate the red mulch as well as the red rocks you are contemplating. It calls attention to the mulch and not the plants.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 4:11PM
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auntpeach(z5 il)

We had red rock mulch in our last house, left over from the previous owner. Under it was black plastic. What a mess when the rocks pierced the plastic, letting some killer weeds poke through. We finally tossed both plastic and rocks and put in dbl-ground hardwood. SOOO much better for your garden! Okay, it has to be added to every few years or so, but shoveling mulch is good for the abs. Hauling bags of rocks around can end you up at the chiro's office! I live in a far-west suburb of Chicago and it's kind of strange, but many folks in the south suburbs seem to prefer white rocks rather than red or black. Not sure about the popularity of hardwood mulch, but I'll be visiting a cousin on Saturday, so I'll do some spying. My brother, who grows roses like crazy, shreds up leaves and uses them for mulch along with shredded hardwood. He says if you have enough leaves, it does as good a job as hardwood mulch. So that's all I know about mulch. Good luck with your decision. Aunt Peach in Elgin, IL
Whoops -- just remembered something else. Apparently, some people use coco bean hulls, which I have seen packaged up at a nursery here in town. Seemed expensive, but worse, it can be poisonous if ingested by pets.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 10:07PM
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bev25(Rhode Island)

I have to say I dont like the red mulch either. I LOVE the smell cocoa mulch but it's a waste of cash for me. The hemlock is fine for where I am.
As for rock... well it looks nice for a year then you fight weeds forever and ever. Ever see a rock bed unattended? Ugh. I'd do cheap stuff in the spaces not so visual and put the good stuff in the main areas. Maybe you could get away with a really low ground cover instead?

    Bookmark   July 28, 2005 at 5:30PM
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I moved into a home where the previous owners did the pebbled rock in almost every bed as well as the black plastic thing underneath because he decided he didnt want one plant growing except a yucca. Talk about ugly, but what happend is, yes I get weeds coming up through the rocks (and sometimes throught the plastic) and I had quite the time adding plants to all those rocks. I ended up removing most of them and adding topsoil and cypruss mulch and it has helped greatly with the weed thing. It is different than your situation I know because your previous owner did a lot of gardening it sounds, so I guess you should go with what you prefer. Rocks can be pretty, but I also prefer mulch. I just know it is hard to add plants to the rocks without burying them or ripping up your hands or gloves!Good luck with your new home.


    Bookmark   July 31, 2005 at 7:00PM
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Stay away from rock unless, like my neighbor, you want to be out with your shop vac cleaning out leaves and debris. I don't or dyed mulch either. This is why, I am planting ground covers. Flowers and ground covers, much more appealing.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2005 at 5:57AM
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mickimo(z5 IL)

Hardwood mulch, aside from looking great, keeping the weeds under control, giving nutrients to aid plants, mulch helps keep moisture in. I'm in a Northwest burb of Chicago and we're in a severe drought. So mulch is a necessity for me.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2005 at 8:09PM
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I tried using pea gravel as a mulch once but I agree with the previous poster--it's kind of hard to keep it looking neat. All the dead leaves, twigs, grass clippings, etc, that you don't really notice with mulch really stand out on it. I don't have a blower so I would have to pick it out by hand. Plus, the weeds would root right through it and when you pull them, you get dirt all over the rocks. I would look for a groundcover or just stick with the mulch.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2005 at 11:47PM
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nyvahoney(z7b S.E.VA)

I have pebbles spread over my whole 50'x 125' lot! I had it done when I moved in about 2 years ago. First I chemically killed the ugly lawn that came with the house. Then I lay landscape FABRIC (not plastic), then the pebbles. I do have flowerbeds and shrubs, but they also have landscaping FABRIC under the mulch around them. I don't have any problems...when do see weeds poking up, I pull them and just push the rocks back over the problems. I dug 12 rose holes (24"x24") and planted my roses and when I was done, I just lay down newspaper over the filled hole and replaced the pebbles. You can't see where anything was recently done in those spots. When soil gets on top of the pebbles, I just hose it off and the soil moves downward, and you can't see it anymore. I do have a blower/vac and I use that to pick up fallen leaves and the pesky mulch that blows around. To me, the mulch is messier because it's light--the pebbles stay put.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2006 at 2:29PM
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Please, Please, Please don't install rock! It has such a static, dead appearance and if you decide at some point that you do not want it anymore, you (or a future owner of the house) will spend many back-breaking hours removing it! I highly recommend using triple-shredded cedar mulch - just natural color. If you decide to really "get into" gardening, I can almost guarantee you will be happy with your decision to go with the mulch - it is good for the garden and allows you to move/add plants any time you wish.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2006 at 9:36PM
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We curse the red rock lover that lived in our home before us. We spend hours and hours and days and weeks pulling out red rock. It was a weird and unnatural thing to have in Iowa. I guess I'm not sure though if red rocks are natural anywhere. At least red mulch will break down. It's still a strange unnatural thing to have in your yard though. I'd go with the plain old cedar or cypress mulch.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2006 at 6:34AM
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I think rocks take more maintainance than mulch, as several have pointed out above. I prefer the natural look of mulch (undyed) but what I really appreciate is its ability to retain moisture, and surpress weed when several inches deep. The fact that it breaks down and feeds the plants and adds organic material improving the soil is an added bonus. The mulch can be anything, and I use leaves, straw, pine needles, compost, and hardwood mulch. Many of my beds don't need the mulch because they are so crowded I cannot see the soil, and thus the weeds do not grow, and the sun does not dry it out.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2006 at 4:22PM
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sarasmiles(6 MI)

I found debris collects between the rocks (mine are less than 1/2 an egg size )and breaks down and becomes the best weed seed starter in the whole world. This is not the non/low maintenance cover I thought it would be. Besides they really hurt my bare feet to walk upon, and they are difficult to dispose of.

As for red mulch  yikes! ItÂs way too un-natural looking and way too ugly.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 3:17PM
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I have two little dogs that i let out to our small back yard covered with pine bark mulch. I also have several fairly messy trees, an Oak and a Magnolia. I'm located in central Florida.

The dogs don't mind the pine bark mulch, but I do, for two reasons: 1) It is difficult to suck up the leaves without sucking up the mulch. 2) The pine bark disintegrates into smaller chunks and slivers and gets stuck to the dogs, bringing the mess into the house. The combination of not being able to clean up the tree debris from the mulch, and the mulch breaking down creates a full time house cleaning challenge.

I am considering a smallish smooth stone, like a small river rock (slightly larger than pea gravel) for the following reasons:

1) I expect it would be easier to pick up the tree debris from the rock with the mulcher/vacuum I already own.
2) My mulcher will not suck up the rocks.
3) The rock itself will not create litter brought into the house like the pine bark mulch (or any organic mulch) will do. Sure, hardwood mulch is in the form of chunks initially, but it, too, breaks down into smaller bits as it ages.

I have a dripper irrigation system that waters individual plants in this portion of my yard.

What are the pros and cons of this plan?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 4:15PM
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