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Mulch or Rock: Protect Your May Flower Plantings

You've spent the whole weekend prepping and planting — now you need to find the best covering to keep those blooms thriving all summer long. Covering the soil of your planting beds serves a number of purposes. For one thing, ground cover will suppress weeds. The last thing you want is weeds that will stunt the root growth of your pretty plants and flowers. Ground cover will protect all soil types by helping to retain moisture by slowing down evaporation. It also maintains a steadier temperature which promotes plant growth.

To protect the topsoil, usually a couple of inches of organic soil makes the ideal environment for plants to live. Further down is the subsoil, home to the root zone of your plants, enriched by mineral particles and organic matter that leaches from the topsoil. By covering the land surface, you protect the fertile soil from erosion and keep all the nutrients your plants need.

There are many options when it comes to covering your soil: organic mulch, stones, and even rubber mulch. Here are the pros and cons of the most popular choices to protect your landscaping planting beds.


These small rocks have been shown to be a great ground cover for gardens. Options include: gravel or crushed stone, pumice stone, and rock mulch. They differ in size and properties, but they are all widely used by landscaping professionals to keep plants healthy and prevent erosion. Although stone mulch is more expensive, it can pay for itself due to a few factors.

  • It's more permanent. Stone mulch will not disintegrate, it won't discolor, and it is quite unlikely to wash away or fly around with the wind. If you want to “set it and forget it," then stone mulch is definitely the best option for protecting your front yard or garden beds from erosion.

  • It’s less expensive in the long run. Stone mulch is a bigger investment up front. However, if you keep in mind that wood mulch needs to be replaced twice a year, you will save in the long run.

  • It’s eco-friendly. Stone mulch has an environmental advantage over chipped wood or bark mulch since no trees have to be cut to make it.

  • It requires less maintenance. No watering, no mowing, no replacing twice a year — all you have to do is shovel them in place and enjoy your garden for years. If you use stone for your front yard landscaping, you can be sure of constant curb appeal for a long time with minimal effort. Since the rocks make it harder for weed seeds to reach the soil, there is less weeding on your part.

What is the best stone for landscaping?
  • Large stones. These are perfect for edging the areas of your garden. Larger rocks are ideal for places where you need good drainage, since water will trickle easily around them and keep your landscaping fabric in place with their weight and heft. However, large stones are not as easy to shovel or spread around, so installation will be more difficult and may cost more. They also limit your options for plants, since it takes tall plants with sturdy stems or trunks to look good next to big rocks.

  • Small rocks. Use them as mulch or for home improvement projects such as a new driveway or pathway cover. They’re super easy to install, spread and clean. If you are using them for walkways, they compact very nicely and are comfortable to walk on (especially for pets). Smaller plants can thrive among small/crushed rocks without looking crowded. However, they are more likely to be dislodged by running water or careless feet, so make sure to dig them in or create a barrier to keep them in place.

  • Lava rock. Since lava rocks are porous, they are much lighter than traditional stone. They also have the advantage of being able to retain water. Lava rocks are very dramatic and can create a focal point. Plus, they last forever, so you can consider it an investment in landscape design that you will enjoy for years to come.

Organic Mulch

Organic mulch material, such as chipped wood or nut shells, contains water and also absorbs it easily. If your plants are very thirsty and must be kept very evenly moist, mulch may be a better option, since it is constantly releasing moisture into the soil.

  • It’s less expensive upfront. organic mulch is a cheaper option. However, keep in mind that even though it is a smaller expense, it is one you will have to make more than once.

What is the best mulch for landscaping?
  • Shredded hardwood. Also called brown mulch, this is the most popular variety. You can buy it in convenient bags in every local store and most garden centers. Since it is the default groundcover preferred by gardeners, there are many options, both in terms of how coarsely or finely it is chipped, and in terms of looks for every landscape design. Shredded wood comes in colors ranging from dramatic black to warm browns and lighter yellows. Match it to your plants, your fence, your house - the design possibilities are exciting! Make sure that the wood comes from a certified source because wooden pallets (a common source of wood chippings) are treated with chemicals which may be harmful to your plants.

  • Compost. Good compost conditions the soil, giving your plants added nutrients and boosting their growth and productivity. Buy it in your local store or make your own, andmlay on just as much as you need for the job. If you want to promote plant growth, 1-2 inches are enough; but if you want to make sure no weeds see the light of day go for at least 3 inches (this is not recommended if you have shallow plant roots).

  • Rubber mulch is a controversial new addition to the market. It is made from recycled tires, which makes it arguably the most environmentally friendly option. It has some distinct advantages from organic mulch — you only need 1 ½ inches of it to keep weeds from sprouting. Also, it is naturally insect resistant and it also deters ants, since they cannot build nests or feed from it.

The choice is yours!

Whether you choose between rock or mulch, it is a decision you will have to make based the type of garden and aesthetic you prefer. Consider carefully your priorities: Price? Convenience? Looks? Delicate plants? Whatever your garden’s needs are, there is a mulch out there that is just right for you!

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