Mulch vs. Rock: Which Is Best?

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Written By Jim J Neal

Are you unsure which organic mulch or rock is best for your yard? To help you choose the best mulch for your yard, we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Both organic mulch and rock are popular options for landscaping. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. People prefer the durability and look of rock while others prefer lighter, more delicate wood or pine needle mulch. It all comes down to personal preference when deciding between mulch and rock.

My neighbor to the east hates putting in mulch every year. My east neighbors use both because they love rocks, but mulch is better for their landscaping and annual flowers. What about you? Mulch.

They both agreed that rock can be beautiful, but once they have to be moved or dug through, they become a beast. This is the kind of chatter that you’ll hear in my community.

Are you unsure which mulch is best for your garden? These are the facts about the organic mulch vs. rocks debate.

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Mulch vs. Rock: Advantages

Use less water Mulch helps soil retain moisture, reduces surface evaporation, and allows you to water less frequently.

More nutrients Mulch is a natural product and its decomposition adds nutrients to soil and plants.

Less weeds: Mulch is a more complete cover for soil to prevent weed growth.

The perfect temperature Mulch acts as an insulator and keeps plants cool in summer and warm in winter. Northern gardeners are particularly fond of winter mulching.

Easy installation: To transport mulch bags to the places you want to spread it, simply toss them in a bag.

Mulch Advantages

Annual replacement Mulch decay is good for plants but bad for your wallet. Mulch can be damaged by wind and heavy rains, so it needs to be replaced.

Too Much Mulch: Mulch that is more than three inches thick can cause stress to plants.

Timing is important: If you spread mulch too early, your soil will not warm naturally and cause late blooms. It can cause weeds if it is spread too late.

Weeds and seeds: Spreading organic mulch could introduce new weeds into your landscape.

Advantages of Rock vs. Mulch

Low maintenance – Rock won’t decay, and it will remain where it is for many years.

Fireproof – If you live near wildfires, rocks can be used as a firebreak.

Variety – Rock offers a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors.

Long-term low cost: Although rock costs more initially than mulch, there is very little or no replacement cost.

Less bugs: Rock is not attracted to insects or pests like mulch. They are attracted to decaying material.

Erosionproof: Rocks can stop soil erosion and will remain in place on sloped yards or hillsides.

Rock Disadvantages

Too hot Dark rock retains heat and raises ground temperature, while light-colored rocks reflect heat onto the plants. Both can increase evaporation so you will need to water more.

No benefit for plants: Rock does not aid soil health or plant growth.

High pH: Different types of rocks in different areas of the United States will alter the acidity and alkalinity levels of your soil.

Weed bed – The space between rocks encourages leaves, seeds, and weeds.

Hand removal: It is difficult work to move rock for new landscaping or replanting.

Too heavy Gravel is too heavy and difficult to transport, making it not easy for DIYers.

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