Mulch and Rock Landscaping: Which is Best?

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Mulch and Rock Landscaping: Which is Best?

Trees, flowers, and shrubs are the essence of your garden. But if you want your backyard to have perfect landscaping, you should add mulch or rocks. These two options are finishing touches that round up your garden and boost its appearance.

But choosing between mulch and rock landscaping isn’t easy. This guide points out advantages and drawbacks to help you decide. Here is how to pick whether you should use rock instead of mulch in your backyard!

What Is the Difference Between Rock and Mulch?

While comparing mulch VS rock, the crucial difference to mention is the material. Manufacturers derive mulch from organic material. This could be pine, bark, or wood chips. These decompose over time, but they turn into nutritious compounds. Your soil uses those compounds for feeding.

But if you use rock for landscaping, it would be purely aesthetic. The ornamental stones look beautiful but don’t have nutritious value. Therefore, consult your landscape designer if additional fertilizing is necessary for those areas.

mulch vs rock


What Is Mulch?

Mulch is a material that helps in nurturing your garden. You can pick from inorganic and organic compounds. Inorganic mulch includes landscape fabrics and black plastic. Its primary purpose is to discourage weeds and ward off pests. Organic mulch also helps your plants grow by improving the soil.

Types of Mulch

If you are deciding between mulch and rock landscaping, it helps to know different options. Here are the most common mulch types:

  • Shredded leaves and wood chips. It’s an excellent choice for a garden path.
  • Grass clippings. These also work as lawn fertilizers.
  • Compost. While it’s not the compost’s primary purpose, you could use it as a type of mulch.
  • Black plastic mulch. It’s inorganic black mulch suitable for protecting vining crops.
  • Hay and straw. It’s excellent to stop weeds from developing and optimize soil moisture.

Pros and Cons of Using Mulch

Let’s begin comparing landscaping pros and cons of rocks VS mulch by checking the advantages of the latter:

  • It helps optimize soil moisture. Mulch decreases evaporation, ensuring you don’t water as frequently.
  • It acts as a natural insulator. The material keeps plants cool in the summer but warm when it’s cold.
  • Easy to install. You can easily arrange mulch by spreading it around the desired area.
  • It’s nutritious for plants. As it decomposes, mulch has nutritious value for the plants.

The drawbacks are:

  • You should replace it every year. Mulch decomposes, meaning you need to spend money and time replacing it annually.
  • It’s possible to add too much. You can stress plants by overusing mulch.
  • You need to add them at the right time. Otherwise, you risk weeds or late blooming.

Types of Landscaping Rocks

Before checking the landscaping pros of rocks VS mulch, let’s check the available rock options:

  • Decomposed granite. It occurs when hot lava or magma cools down. The ingredients include other minerals, and you can pick from many color options with this gravel.
  • Decomposed granite with resin or stabilizer. The resin addition adds permeability. You can use it for pathways instead of asphalt. Stabilizers are suitable for a rough gravel path.
  • Pea gravel. This rock for landscaping is small, which is how the name originated.
  • River rock. It comes from river beds and features various rock sizes. It’s great to solve a drainage problem by redirecting the water.

If you need help deciding, don’t hesitate to contact our contractor to get tips on the best choices for your backyard!

What Is the Best Stone for Landscaping?

Most landscape design experts would agree using rock instead of mulch will ensure better garden aesthetics. The variety of stones available makes it suitable for different surfaces.

You can use them for flower beds, around pools, fire pits, etc. It’s easy to make an area a focal point by adding rocks to it. The best stone for landscaping solely depends on your preference.

rock instead of mulch

Pros and Cons of Using Rock

The advantages include:

  • Fire-resistant. If you live in a dry area with high fire risk, rocks could help keep wildfires at bay.
  • Wide varieties and color choices. If choosing between mulch and rock landscaping, the latter will give you more options to improve the garden’s aesthetics.
  • Minimal maintenance. It’s non-existent since the rock stays put for years.
  • Not attractive to pests and bugs. There’s no decomposition, so there is nothing to attract the insects.
  • It can play a useful role. You can divert water or stop soil erosion.

As for drawbacks, these are:

  • A higher temperature. Rocks divert heat to plants, so they might require more water.
  • No actual benefit to the soil. It doesn’t decompose like mulch.
  • It’s not easy to install. Rocks can be tricky to transport due to their weight, and it’s not easy to place them in the desired location.

Rock vs. Traditional Mulch: Which Is Better

It’s best to consider landscaping ideas with mulch and rocks and decide on those that fit your style. There’s no reason why you can’t combine both materials.

Use mulch in one garden area and rocks in other parts. And remember, there’s no “better” but only a more suitable option.

What Does Your Soil Prefer?

Your soil would prefer mulch. It has a nutritious value that feeds it during decomposition. But rocks can be useful in many situations. What if you have drought-tolerant plants and you want to stop them from getting too much water?

Rocks can help to redirect the water, and they have the aesthetic factor that improves the area’s appearance.

Which Is Cheaper?

The general rule is that rock costs more than mulch. But don’t forget that it lasts longer. It won’t decompose over time.

You’ll probably need to add new mulch annually, which requires paying more and takes effort. So, in the long run, rock might be a better value for money.

Things to Consider When Choosing Mulch or Rocks

If you are still having second thoughts about choosing mulch VS rock, here are some things that will help:

  • Don’t put rocks underneath the trees. Leaves and debris stick between the rocks and are hard to remove.
    Pick plants wisely. You can have drought-tolerant plants in flower beds with rocks.
  • Make sure to discourage weeds when using rocks. It helps to add a fabric barrier to prevent them from passing through the gaps between stones.

Our Las Vegas landscaping contractor is at your disposal. We have experts ready to discuss the best options for your garden and get the job done quickly!

About the author:


Andrew Herbert is an established content writer and editor with a passion for architecture, landscape design, and home improvement projects, along with native and drought-tolerant gardening. Andrew enjoys giving readers the most up-to-date and relevant information in a clear, friendly manner.


He is currently living in Las Vegas, and cooperating with Visualized Landscape as a content marketer. 

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