Mulch Vs. Rock? Which Is Best For Your Landscape Beds?

Mulch vs rock which is best for your project

Landscape beds are beautiful features of your home or commercial property. Even a simple design can make an impact. All you need is something that will thrive. Though a bed is more than the flowers, shrubs, and trees we fill it with. It’s what’s around that flora too that will make the most of your landscape. It’s often the sticky point in a project, where gardeners and property owners have trouble deciding on a ground cover. Mulch vs rock? Which is best for your landscaping project, and why?

Mulch vs. Rock: What to Consider

Besides being visually appealing, mulch and stone protect the soil of your landscape beds by retaining moisture, maintaining a steadier temperature, and suppressing weed development. These ground covers promote healthy wanted plant growth and make the area easier to maintain.

When choosing between mulch or stone

Consider the area you’ll be covering. You need to know the square footage of your bed as well as the depth of coverage, which is usually 2 to 4 inches. Be sure it’s deep enough to prevent weeds and shallow enough to let the water reach the soil. Check out this awesome mulch calculator to determine your needs according to bed size and shape. The depth of stone, though generally 2 to 4 inches, varies based on the size and type of the rock.

The Three Best Landscape Rocks

Essentially you can use any kind of rocks that you want in your landscaping beds, but there are some popular varieties that are commonly used for this purpose because of their affordability and how attractive they are. The three best options are:

pea gravel makes a nice landscaping rock
Pea Gravel Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is much smaller than other landscape rock options, but it works well in smaller spaces. It’s not something you might choose to use in a very large area, but a small bed or a small, designated area would look nice with it. You can find pea gravel in all kinds of colors.

River Rocks

river rocks make good landscaping rocks
River Rock Photo by Logan Popoff on Unsplash

River rocks are smaller, usually a couple of inches in diameter each. They’re nice because they’re really affordable, but they also match everything. River rocks come in various colors and shapes, so they match any existing rocks that you have in place.

Lava Rocks

lava rock looks great in landscape beds
Lava Rock

Lava rocks have a very porous surface that forms little air bubble craters. It is made from erupted lava that cools down and hardens. It usually comes in a red/brown shade, black and gray (depending on the minerals in the lava). It’s a very durable option that looks nice for years to come. If you’re working with the rock on your own, you’ll be happy to know that lava rocks are very lightweight. They even protect the soil from eroding and add minerals back in.

Cheapest Rock to Use for Landscaping

Pea gravel is likely the most affordable rock for landscaping, especially when it comes to large DIY projects like front yard gardens, patio fillers, and driveways. Most landscaping rock is an affordable option because of the low maintenance. Mulch breaks down or fades in color, and you’ll need to replenish the surface more frequently.

Do You Put Anything Under Landscaping Rocks?

landscaping cloth as weed barrier

Before you lay down rock, you may want to consider investing in a weed barrier that gets unrolled over the dirt. The rock will be placed over the barrier, and this prevents weeds from growing up in between the rocks over time. Chemicals can be used underneath the rock for the same purpose, but they tend to break down after a couple of years.

Using Mulch for Landscaping Beds

Mulch is an option for your beds that produces a very neat and clean look. Mulch can naturally prevent weeds from growing, and it looks nice for a few years before you need to maintain it. The nice thing about mulch is that you have the option of planting flowers and other plants in these beds, and mulch is easy to work around. Stone tends to be a lot more difficult because you have to remove the stone from an area, plant and then replace the stone. Mulch is treated almost like plain dirt.

mulch is great for landscaping beds

Mulch is also very affordable. You can usually purchase a large amount of it from a garden center or nursery in the springtime. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to spread on your own, but you can also hire professionals to refresh your landscaping beds if you wish. Some debris might get caught up in your mulch now and again, so a periodic cleaning of your landscape beds may be needed.

How Deep Should Mulch Or Rock Be?

If you’re placing mulch or landscaping stones down that are smaller than one to one and a half inches in size, you’ll want to lay it about two and a half inches deep. Smaller gravel may need to be a little thicker to provide a good ground cover. You don’t want to be able to see the dirt or weed barrier underneath.

Is There Something Better Than Mulch?

Rocks provide an excellent weed barrier option that is also long-lasting and easy to maintain. Landscape rock doesn’t have to be replaced as often as mulch, though periodic replenishing is encouraged to maintain a fresh look as well as replace any lost rock. If you lay down a deep enough layer of rocks, you won’t see the surface underneath, even if people are walking in the area.

mulch vs. rock mix with intention

If you’re really convinced that you want to go the route of the more natural wood look, you could always opt for wood chips instead of mulch. The pieces are a bit larger but still have a similar appearance as mulch. Rubber mulch is also a product that a lot of people are turning to when they like this look but don’t want to worry about upkeep.

Can You Mix Mulch and Rocks Together in Your Landscaping?

If you’re going to be utilizing rocks and mulch in one area together, they are usually separated using some sort of border. Otherwise, rocks and mulch mixed can create quite a mess. Unless, of course, the rocks themselves serve as borders or displays, or you’re using large stones to create a natural walkway.

If you’re in the Tampa Bay Area and wondering if mulch or rock is better for your landscaping project, reach out to Professor Green Thumb for assistance. We’re happy to help you decide which option would look best on your property whether you’re designing a corporate park or a residential backyard.

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