How to Choose Between Rock and Wood Mulch

Written by ruby bayan
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How to Choose Between Rock and Wood Mulch
Choose Between Rock and Wood Mulch (Photos by Ruby Bayan)

The primary objectives of mulching are to control weeds, maintain soil moisture and add beauty to the landscape. With these in mind, how do you choose from the many mulching options available? Between wood mulch (chips, bark) and rock mulch (pebbles, stones, rocks), which would be the best for your garden? Here are tips to help you make an informed decision.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • A plan for your garden
  • Familiarity with the local climate

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  1. 1

    Have a garden plan and mulching budget. Before you head out to the home improvement store to buy bags of any type of mulch, design a plan for the areas that you want to cover. You will want to know what plants go where, when your plantings will be done and ready for mulching and how your design will evolve over the long-term. Knowing as much as possible about your garden layout and future plans will help you decide on the best mulching solution for your landscape now and for seasons to come. Keep in mind that wood may be cheap compared to rocks, but you will need to replenish wood mulch over time. And always budget for the depth of mulch that achieves the best results.

  2. 2

    Become familiar with the type of climate your garden areas are exposed to. Slopes, trenches and water-prone or wind-prone locations require special attention when it comes to not just planting, but also mulching.

  3. 3

    Know the advantages of wood mulch. Whether it is pieces, chips, shavings or sawdust, wood mulch is a good alternative because it adds nutrients to the soil as it naturally decomposes. Pine, cedar and cypress bark mulches are common, relatively attractive and long lasting. It is good at preventing weeds, retaining moisture and slowing down topsoil erosion.

    How to Choose Between Rock and Wood Mulch
    Know the advantages of wood mulch.
  4. 4

    Know the disadvantages of wood mulch. One of the disadvantages of wood mulch is that it decomposes into the soil, requiring regular reapplication. Wood mulches are not recommended for landscapes exposed to strong winds because it will fly off, or for water-prone areas because it will float away.

  5. 5

    Know the advantages of rock mulch. Pebbles, stones and rocks are considered permanent mulch because they don't need to be replenished regularly, and neither fly off nor float away. Because of the permanent nature, it is easily incorporated with fixed garden elements like trees, fountains and other enduring focal points. Rocks are excellent at giving landscapes a bold design element. Applied in a thick layer, it is good at controlling weeds.

    How to Choose Between Rock and Wood Mulch
    Know the advantages of rock mulch.
  6. 6

    Know the disadvantages of rock mulch. Because rocks are heavy and cumbersome, they should only be applied to locations that do not need constant maintenance or seasonal upkeep. Rocks also have a tendency to sink into the soil; and the light-shaded ones can cause a heat reflective effect that may not be good for some plants, especially in the summer.

Tips and warnings

  • The best wood mulches are those that have aged and decomposed for some time; unseasoned or newly prepared wood chips sometimes contain toxins that can harm young plants.
  • For rock mulching, consider using an underlayment (thick plastic) for longest lasting weed control.
  • Pebbles that find their way into the path of a lawn mower can jettison and cause damage or injury.

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