If you listen to us at all, you already know the wonders of mulch.

But you can never hear it too many times, so here’s a brief re-cap:

Mulch helps your soil retain moisture, so you won't have to water as much. It keeps pesky weeds at bay by blocking the sunlight they need to sprout. It prevents rain from washing away your landscape soil.

We love mulch. And here at Level Green Landscaping, we use bark mulch much more often than rock. But there are times rocks are a great choice.

Rock vs. mulch in planting beds?

Let’s take a look.

Differences Between Rock and Mulch

Bark mulch comes from a variety of trees, from cypress and cedar to pine, hemlock and oak.

Our favorite mulch here at Level Green is double shredded hardwood bark mulch. We go the extra step to use dyed dark brown mulch. The added color helps it stay nice and dark longer, without fading as quickly. It costs a bit more, but our customers appreciate the rich, dark look throughout the year.

Plant bed with bark mulch

Rock mulch is decorative gravel or rocks ranging in size from pea-size to golf ball size, often sourced from river beds.

It’s available in a wide variety of sizes, colors, textures and shapes, from porous, lightweight red or black lava rock to pretty, smooth quartz gravel mulch in purple or pink.

When Is Rock A Good Choice for Plant Beds?

Most of the time, we prefer the look and cost of bark mulch, and the way it breaks down over time to feed the soil.

Rock mulch

But when is rock a good choice for landscaping?

  • If you have drainage issues on your property, rock is a great mulch choice, allowing water to drain quickly.

  • If you have open bed areas without plants, rock is an easy, no maintenance option.

  • Rocks are great for high-traffic areas, where pedestrians tend to take short cuts. Trampled plants look terrible, but rocks stand up to the stress.

  • If you’re considering a fountain or statue for a high-impact entrance, rocks make a great backdrop.

  • If you’re a no-nonsense property manager who wants to mulch then forget it, rock is your thing.

How About Maintenance?

There’s nothing like a fresh layer of dark brown mulch. It makes your beds look instantly fabulous.

If only it stayed that great looking. But it doesn't. Mulch fades and breaks down over time, so you’ll need to replace it every spring.

Some Level Green customers replace it twice a year, in spring and fall, to ensure it always looks fresh.

Rocks on the other hand, require little maintenance. They may need an occasional washing to keep them looking clean and tidy. Over time, you might want to add a new top layer after they settle.

Note: rocks are heavier to move than mulch. Be sure you know exactly where you want it.

Is Rock or Mulch Better For Curb Appeal?

This is really a matter of taste and design preference.

Some people are mulch people, and seeing a load of the rich brown stuff delivered just makes them happy.

Mulch and plants walkway curb appeal

Others like the bright, clean look of rocks.

A bed of rocks with crisp, square corners punctuated with contemporary ornamental grasses creates a clean, modern feel.

But if you love the look of curvy beds filled with colorful drifts of annuals and perennials, bark mulch is your top pick.

Cost of Mulch vs. Rock

Rock is more expensive than bark mulch.

The cost of rock mulch varies, depending on the type and size, but generally costs two to three times more than an application of mulch.

But remember, it doesn’t break down and disappear into the soil like bark mulch does. You don’t need to replace it every year. So you may actually save money over time.

What Does Your Soil Prefer?

Mulch made from organic material like bark or wood chips decays over time, crumbling into nutritious bits that actually feed your soil.

Rocks don’t add anything to the soil. So plants that grow in beds mulched with rocks may need extra fertilizing.

Things To Consider When Choosing Mulch or Rocks

  • If your landscape has trees that drop a lot of leaves and debris, rock mulch might not be your best choice, as it accumulates and sticks in the rocks.

  • Rocks require a fabric weed barrier underneath to discourage weeds from poking up through the rocks.

  • Rocks need steel edging or a raised concrete barrier to keep stray rocks from shifting into turf areas. Edging keeps rock beds looking tidy.

  • Flowers don’t thrive in beds mulched with rocks, but sturdy, drought-tolerant plants like succulents do well. Rock beds are naturally warmer than beds of mulch, so plants there need to be able to take the heat. Consider your plant material before you decide on a mulch.

Can’t Decide? Let Level Green Help

At Level Green Landscaping, we’re mulch experts. Rock vs. mulch in planting beds? We can size up your property’s unique needs and recommend the perfect mulch for your planting beds.

If you’re not already a Level Green Landscaping client, we’d love to add you to our growing list of happy customers.

Our focus is on commercial properties like offices, mixed-use sites, HOAs, municipalities and institutions in Maryland, Washington DC and parts of Virginia.

Contact us at 202-544-0968. You can also request a free consultation online to meet with us one-on-one.

We’d love to hear from you.

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