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Using Decorative Stones or Mulch in Planting Beds

Both landscaping stone and organic mulch help to foster growth in your garden. They help to make your flowers “pop” by adding a more neutral background that contrasts in color. They also reduce weeds by blocking light to unwanted plants. So, if you’re sold on stones and mulch, which one do you choose? Should you be using stones or mulch in planting beds? How do you know what’s right for your planting beds? We’ll walk you through the benefits of each, so you have all the information to decide.

What is mulch?

Mulch is defined as any organic material that is used to top planting beds. When you add mulch to your garden, the soil will be able to retain more moisture than it otherwise would. Mulch improves the soil’s structure, drainage, and nutrient-holding capacity as it decomposes. Because mulch will decompose over time, you will need to replace it every year (sometimes twice a year). However, be careful not to add too much mulch. Adding more than 2 to 3 inches can do more harm than good.

When you’ve added mulch to your planting beds, your plants will also remain cooler in the summer and be protected from frost in the winter. Additionally, mulch helps suppress weeds, which take up all of the nutrients that are intended to nourish your plants.

Types of mulch

If mulch sounds like a healthy route for your garden, do your research! Not all mulches are created the same. Some are better for certain climates and others are a better investment because they last longer.

Bark, shredded or chipped

These types of mulches are best around trees and shrubs. They tend to last longer than finer organic mulches. It has an aesthetic appeal and is less likely to blow away if you live in a windy climate. It is also readily available in most areas.

Pine needles

This is an incredibly popular type of mulch in the Southeastern United States. It has a natural appearance and is lightweight. This makes it easy to lay and also increases soil acidity. It’s low maintenance as it only needs to be replaced every couple of years. It is good for high temperatures and protects the roots of your plants. It comes from naturally fallen pine needs and helps control soil erosion. However, this mulch is NOT the best for weed control and is not recommended in dry climates because there is a risk of wildfire.

Shredded leaves

This type of mulch is deemed “nature’s favorite” because it can be used pretty much anywhere. It is low-cost or free, which is a huge benefit if you’re on a budget. It’s ideal for a woodland style landscape. You can spread a layer in your garden in the fall, and it will decompose during the winter. Thus, you’ll need to be on top of maintaining it. Yet, with the low prices, it shouldn’t be as much of a hassle.


This type of mulch is most popular in vegetable gardens as it can help keep paths or dirt areas less muddy than they would otherwise be. Straw is a good home for beneficial insects who can move around in it. It can also keep less helpful pests under control. Straw will decompose slowly over time, so you’ll need to replace it periodically.

Rubber mulch

This type of mulch sounds like exactly what it is. It’s made from recycled rubber material, and it’s often used to create pathways and trails or may even be used at public parks or on playgrounds. It’s a great choice for ground cover, and it is more permanent than wood mulch. However, despite reducing fungal growth and acting as a weed barrier, it does nothing to improve the soil. It is non-porous and does not absorb moisture, but it is more effective at retaining soil moisture.


Compost mulch is ideal for vegetable gardens and flower beds as it is made out of organic material. If you add this type of mulch to flower beds, you help to improve the soil for future growth.

What are landscape stones?

Landscape stones are used in an area to make it attractive and functional for ground cover. They’re often selected because they’re durable and resistant to losing their color. They aren’t scattered by wind or rain, and they can help keep the soil in place and moist when used around trees or shrubs.

Often, landscape stones are used for garden pathways or as an alternative to pavement or concrete. Because landscape stones come in a variety of colors or textures, you can select which one fits your tastes. When selected as a décor element, it adds color and character to your landscape.

Because landscape stones are sources from riverbeds, they can range in size from pea-sized to golf-ball-sized stones. The color, size, texture, and shape will vary. Drainage issues can often be solved by incorporating landscape stones as mulch into your landscape design.

Landscape stones are ideal for high-traffic areas, especially those where pedestrians tend to take short cuts. While mulch will look obviously trampled, stones tend to stay in place and require little to no maintenance. If you’re looking to put down a type of mulch and forget about it, landscaping stones are your best bet. They may be more expensive (2 to 3 times as much as an application of mulch!), but they last much longer, don’t break down, and don’t need to be replaced every single year.

If you’re leaning towards landscaping rocks, make sure you have the right type of plants or features for it. For example, landscaping stones are a great background for water fountains and features. Succulents also do particularly well with landscaping stones. Flowers, however, don’t thrive in beds with rocks as well. This is because rock beds tend to be naturally warmer than beds of mulch, so any plant nestled within it needs to be able to withstand the heat. Rocks are also not the best under trees that drop a lot of leaves or debris as you’ll find yourself trying to clean out your rocks constantly.

A few final tips that will confirm that rocks are what you’re looking for. Rocks require steel edging or a raised concrete barrier in order to prevent stray rocks from shifting into turf areas. This will allow your landscaping to remain neat and the stones to do their jobs. All that said, once you put it down, it’ll be harder to transfer or remove, so make sure you know what you’re doing!

Types of stone mulch

Sold on stone mulch? This route is especially great for xeriscaping as it eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation. Let’s explore the different types of landscape stones you could incorporate into your landscape design.

Lava rock

This type of stone mulch has a rugged and matte texture, so it pairs well with Pacific and Southwestern design styles. Many homeowners select it as a fire pit liner. It will give your landscape and earthy feel.

Decomposed granite

This is a softer and more rustic look than lava rock. Decomposed granite has a sandy texture. It’s an affordable option for those on a lower budget.

Pea gravel

You’ll recognize this type of landscape stone from paths, patios, and playgrounds. It helps to suppress weed growth while also retaining moisture. It comes in various sizes and ranges in color as its most often found near bodies of water.

River rock

This is a more expensive option than other landscape stones. It’s ideal for dry climates as other mulch often poses a fire hazard. Therefore, if you’re looking for mulch for rock and cacti gardens, this should be your go-to. You can also use it for beds around pools. Note that it requires a weed barrier to prevent weeds.

Final thoughts

And there you have it! That was every type of mulch you could possibly need for your garden or landscape. Mulch serves so many purposes, but the type you select depends on the climate you live in and the budget you have for this project. You now have all the information you need to choose wisely.