Rocks or Mulch?

Turf is an essential part of any yard, but there’s more to landscaping than your lawn. Sooner or later, you’re going to want to spruce up your flower beds or clean up around the base of trees. Then you’ll need to make a decision: rocks or mulch?

Both stone and organic mulch can provide color and distinction to a yard, so the decision is largely a matter of personal preference, though each selection has its pros and cons.

Mulch, which comes in several shades, has cheaper up-front, and typically costs less than $1 per square foot to lay. Because it’s comprised of organic material, it’s a great insulator, and protects trees and flowers from temperature fluctuation. It’s also a barrier against evaporation, helping underlying soil retain water, reducing the need to water – a boon in dry Colorado summers. It also prevents weeds from germinating if it’s lain early enough in the year.

The down side? Because it’s organic, mulch deteriorates and fades, particularly when exposed to high-altitude sunlight, which means you’ll need to replace it every couple years or so. Because it’s lightweight, mulch can be tossed around in high winds or washed away by heavy rains or floods.

Rocks are a perennial favorite for landscaping, and it’s easy to see why. While they’re initially more expensive than mulch – depending upon the variety, expect to spend about $1.50-$2 per square foot – you won’t need to replace them. Much more dense than mulch, they’ll stay put in all but the most extreme weather conditions, and they’re color stable. If you’re looking to avoid future maintenance, rocks are the clear choice.

There are reasons homeowners opt for mulch, though. Stone absorbs and holds heat, raising the temperature of the soil beneath it; many kinds also reflect heat back to areas around them. This means you’ll need to water plants surrounded by rocks more frequently, and may struggle to cool your house with the ambient heat of landscaping stone.

Choosing between rocks or mulch essentially boils down to a simple decision: Are you looking for ease of use or more ecologically sound ground covering? When you need low-impact groundcover, mulch will be your best choice.