Rock vs. Mulch


Posted on by plsadmin

As I’ve said in another article about garden maintenance, one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep weeds down is to put down a thick layer of mulch or rocks.

The main purpose for mulch or rocks is to keep weeds from coming up. Both materials do this by forming a thick barrier between the soil and the open, sunny air. This way weed seeds that land on the material don’t have soil to grow into and any weed seeds that are in the soil can’t force their way up into the light. This is a huge benefit to any gardener who wants to keep their garden looking nice and neat.

If you’re looking for someone to bring in mulch or rocks for your garden, our gardening team is here to help! But before we bring it out you need to decide what kind of material you want to use. Here are some pros and cons of both materials:

Rock works best in shrub gardens that you don’t plan to change. Perennials don’t do as well in rock gardens because they die back to the ground every year. Every spring perennials have to push through all that heavy rock – I’ve seen tender shoots and leaves tear as they force their way to the sun – this is why rock is an effective weed-barrier. Rock is also an effective shovel-barrier. Anyone who has tried transplanting or put a new plant in a rock garden will tell you what a pain it is to dig through all that rock.

The nice thing about rock is that it’s inorganic so it won’t break down over time. Once it’s there, it stays.

The downside is that any leaves and other organic matter will break down and begin to settle between the rocks, mixing with soil that may wash into your garden in heavy rain. The soil and organic matter will eventually build up enough to support the growth of weed seeds that land in your garden.

Now that your rock barrier has failed what can you do? You could try to power wash the soil out of your rocks but you’ll have to be very careful of your tender plants. You could try bringing in more rock but you don’t want it to be too thick so your plants get buried. And the same problem with organic matter will happen again. You could remove your old rock and bring in new rock but it will be backbreaking labor and you won’t be able to remove every stone. And, once again, the organic matter will build up over time.

Another downside is that the rock you buy now will be your same rock in 20 years and beyond. The weed control problem aside, you may not like the color or textures you chose. Think back to hair, clothing, or decorating styles 20 years ago – aren’t you glad you were able to change with the times? And, again, removing all that heavy rock isn’t going to be an easy project if you do want to make a change.

In most cases we would recommend mulch for gardens, especially for perennials and annuals. Perennials will have an easier time growing up through the mulch in the spring. It will also be much easier for you to push the mulch aside when you need to divide, transplant, or add new perennials or annuals. A garden is a living thing – it’s dynamic and I prefer to make it as easy as possible to make necessary changes.
Unlike rock, mulch is organic so it will break down over time. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. On the one hand you have to replace it over time and on the other, it can be easily replaced.

As it breaks down mulch will mix with the soil that washes into your garden in heavy rain as well as with the leaves and other organic matter that inevitably accumulates to enrich the soil of your garden. This means that the mulch you put down a few years ago is not as effective a barrier as it was when it was fresh but the solution is easy: just lay down another layer of mulch. Because mulch breaks down you can just put more mulch on top and, unlike rock, it breaks down so it doesn’t get so deep that your plants can’t reach through to the sun.

This also allows you to change your mind. Want to try some of that red mulch? Go for it! Looking for something more natural next year? No problem!

Mulch is much, much lighter than rock so it’s also a lot easier to spread. If you want your mulch to look as fresh as possible you will need it to be refreshed every year. If you’re more interested in good weed coverage you can typically get away with refreshing it every 2-3 years.

Interested in getting some mulch of your very own? Call us today to set up your FREE consultation! 952-252-3301

Not convinced by my argument? We can still get you the rock you desire so give us a call!

Want to learn more about mulch? Be sure to read our article on garden maintenance!

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