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Mulch vs. Decorative Rock for Landscaping Design

Mulch vs. Decorative Rock for Landscaping Design - Soil Kings - Bulk Landscaping Supplies - Featured Image

When it comes to adding a finishing flourish to your landscaping, mulch and aggregates are both obvious options. They both bring vivid colours and interesting textures to your landscaping. They both help to insulate soil from wind and reduce temperature fluctuations, and (with sufficient depth) they both prevent weeds from growing. So how does a Calgary landscaper or garden enthusiast choose between the two?


Mulch is an organic material. Typically made from wood chips or shredded bark, mulch slowly decays over the year and thus needs to be refreshed annually. This extra maintenance offers a great benefit though: the decaying mulch serves as compost for your growing plants, and as the fine pieces of mulch blend into your soil, they increase workability and water retention.


Decorative Rocks are generally more expensive than mulch, but they don’t need to be replaced or refreshed annually. This makes decorative rocks a one-time investment rather than an ongoing expense. However, rocks aren’t as beneficial to your plants. They can heat up in the sun causing soil and plants to overheat. They don’t release useful nutrients, and as the rocks gradually mix into your garden beds, they make the soil less workable, not more.


So now that we understand some of the differences between mulch and decorative rocks, where does each belong within your landscaping design?


Around Cacti and Container Gardens:

This contemporary, low maintenance approach to gardening replaces the front lawn with containers (barrels, pots, wheelbarrows, etc) that are bursting with flowers and life. In addition to contained gardens, this landscaping aesthetic may use boulders, trees, water features, and cacti for texture and interest. Decorative rocks are the perfect complement to this style of landscaping. By using a thick layer of rocks over a landscaping barrier, you’ll find that weeds are effectively defeated for many years. As the soil begins to build up between your rocks (usually carried by the wind), you can effectively employ herbicides to keep the rocks weed-free.


Around Trees:

Mulch is the better option around trees. Trees prefer slightly acidic soils, but most rocks will naturally create a more alkaline environment. In addition to this potential of decorative rocks to change the soil pH and hurt trees, mulch is actively beneficial to trees. In fact, some research has found that plants and trees with a healthy layer of mulch (2-3 inches thick, and not touching the trunk or stems) can grow twice as fast as those without the benefits of mulch.


High Traffic Areas:

Anywhere people and pets are going to be walking regularly, decorative rocks are the right choice. Decorative rocks are highly attractive, even underfoot, and extremely durable. Mulch is also a cognitive stop sign for most adults. Studies have shown that people are nearly 80% less likely to walk in mulched areas.


In Garden & Flower Beds:

This cognitive stop sign makes mulch perfect for flower and garden beds. As we mentioned in ‘around trees,’ mulch is a plant-growing superfood. When applied correctly, mulch helps plants (including trees) grow twice as fast. And, because people are less likely to step on mulch, they also help protect your garden beds from soil compaction.


Around Hardscaping Elements:

Around statues and other hardscaping elements, rocks are the obvious, low maintenance option. Because they come in a variety of colours and sizes, landscapers are able to choose the perfect match for hardscaping elements, and (unlike mulch) these rocks should never have to be replaced or refreshed.


Where Drainage is Important:

Around the house (and anywhere else drainage is important), rocks are a good idea. Rocks help to move water away from your home and into garden beds or even just to the city gutters. Decorative rocks are also fireproof, which can give some homeowners more peace of mind when choosing between rocks and mulch that will be up against the house.


When it comes to deciding between decorative rocks and mulch, we generally recommend both — but in different stops. After all, both decorative rocks and mulch are extremely useful landscaping tools, and they work best in different, complementary situations. Consider which areas of your landscaping need a little colour or texture, and then make the best decision for your yard. Order your decorative rocks, mulch, (or both!) online today from Soil Kings, and have your landscaping material delivered tomorrow.