Mulch and Rock Landscaping: How To Make Your Ground Cover Pop!

Landscaped garden with mulched flower bed and granite cobblestone path with gravel joint fill.

Are you bored with your landscaping? 

Do you feel like your garden or front yard is ordinary? It’s tidy and looks pretty good with fresh mulch or river rock. But do you wish you could bring that wow factor to your yard? Read on for some tips on how to breathe some freshness into your mulch and rock landscaping!

Challenge Your Landscape Routine

Lots of people fall into a landscaping routine. Springtime comes, and you buy fresh mulch. You tear out the old, do some weeding, lay down some new landscape fabric, plant your annuals, and service your perennials. Many people grow the same flowers in the same spots within their flower beds year after year. 

Why do we do this, and why are we such “creatures of habit”? It’s because when we repeat a job or a task, over time, we create a mental procedural modus operandi on a subconscious level.  Our brains do this to conserve effort and time.

So let’s shake things up a little and challenge the status quo. Perhaps you could change up your ground cover and arrangements within your landscape design.

We’re going to start with some good basic info for your ground cover choice.

The Basics of Ground Cover: Rock vs. Mulch

The use of ground cover in your landscape design is helpful in at least four ways. 

  1. It brings aesthetic beauty to your yard and around your house and property. 
  2. Your flowers and plants receive protection as the ground cover helps the soil retain moisture. Ground cover saves water and moderates soil temperatures. It also protects against erosion as it reduces water runoff during heavy rains. 
  3. Ground cover with rock and mulch landscaping is effective at limiting weed growth.
  4. Both mulches and rocks can help create better soil structure to prevent impaction, improve aeration, and enhance fertility.

Though some ground cover may include plants like Creeping Phlox or Green Carpet (Herniaria Glabra), the most popular choices are mulch and rock, or more specifically, decorative landscape gravels.

Chipping and shredding of trees produce wood mulch. Rock mulch consists of gravels sourced from quarries, rocky areas, and river beds. Both mulch categories are available in many different options in composition, size, and shape. They can each meet a wide range of criteria to fulfill specific functions and preferences.

As you may expect, an excellent basic rule of thumb is to plan to use rock for high-traffic applications such as a walkway, patio, or fire pit area. Areas with lots of plants, such as a garden or flower bed with lots of annuals, are generally easier to work with when you use mulch. However, if your plants are large and spread out, decorative gravel can work quite well and be very attractive.

Mulch from Landscape Supply Companies

I can always find different wood chips and bulk mulch for sale near me. Various trees are their sources, such as cedar, spruce, pine, hemlock, cypress, oak, etc.

Each variation of wood mulch offers its unique color, aroma, and benefits to your plants and soil. Additionally, wood mulches bring their natural beauty to the landscape space.


Advantages of Mulch

  • Mulch is inexpensive, making it a good choice when operating on a tight budget.
  • The natural aesthetic characteristics make wood mulch popular, particularly the darker colored mulches.
  • People like the protection it offers plants against drought and sunlight.
  • Installation is simple and easy. Available in bags or bulk, mulch can be blown in for large areas, brought in by wheelbarrow for moderate size applications, or laid down by hand in small spaces or flower beds where care is necessary.
  • As wood or bark mulches decompose, they leave organic matter, which provides essential nutrients for your soil.
  • No one likes weeds. Many people love mulch for its additional benefit of deterring weed growth in covered areas.

Disadvantages of Mulch

  • Since wood mulches decompose, they must be refreshed and eventually will need to be removed and replaced.
  • Over time, your landscaping will begin to look washed-out since mulches fade in color in the sunlight.
  • In hilly or sloped yards, your coverage may be washed out by rainstorms or swept away by strong winds.

Rock from Landscape Supply Companies

Decorative landscape gravels can be used effectively as rock mulches. There are many types of rock that work well as ground cover. In addition to plentiful options in size and shape, there are also beautiful colors from which to choose. Popular landscape rock types include pea gravel, Mexican beach pebbles, lava rock, and chipped rock.

Black mullein plants growing in gravel mulch with landscape rock edging on a rocky slope at Lake of the Ozarks.

Advantages of Rock

  • Rock ground cover offers a naturally pleasant and classy aesthetic to your property due to the medley of color they bring as well as the added interest of their shapes and sizes.
  • Decorative gravels save money over time because they are a long-lasting solution to your mulching and aesthetic needs.
  • Rock brings a perennial constant because it is permanent. Plus, wind can’t dry it out and blow it away, and it withstands washout from rainstorms better than mulch.
  • Like mulch, rock can help soil hold moisture in and act as a deterrent to weeds.
  • You can clean up old leaves and plant waste with a leaf blower and garden hose.

Disadvantages of Rock

  • Landscape gravels and rocks are generally more expensive than wood mulch.
  • Rock is a little more labor-intensive when you install it.
  • It’s better to use a landscape fabric underneath the gravel bed. A good quality weed fabric will deter weeds better than the rocks alone. However, planting flowers and other greenery is more difficult once your rocks and weed barrier are in place.
  • Landscape rock will absorb heat more than mulch which can be problematic for some plants.
  • If you want to add to the rock in the future, it can be challenging to match it with the same product.

4 Easy Ways to Enhance Your Rock and Mulch Landscaping

We’ve looked at some basics regarding landscaping with rocks and mulch. So now, let’s look at some practical ideas to help you break out of your design rut and bring a little “wow” to your flower beds or graveled areas.

A newly landscaped flowerbed with flat rocks, orange pebbles, a rose bush, Snapdragon flowers, dark mulch, and a stone bench.

1. Go Bigger

I don’t necessarily mean that you should go “bigger” in terms of area or space. Many people have limited space or well-defined beds that don’t need enlarging. I’m talking about the use of larger landscaping elements.

You don’t have to stick with small rocks and landscape gravel, particularly if you’re not planting flowers close together. Often people use landscaping gravel to trim around a building. Or they employ it to act as edging around a yard or a garden area. Instead, consider laying flagstone, steppers, or cobblestones with Herniaria Glabra planted in between.

2. Use Landscape Edging

Sometimes all you need to dress up that rocked or mulched area is some edging. Landscape edging brings definition and makes the space seem more detailed and better designed. There are lots of benefits of landscape edging (read here). You can create edging with anything from bricks or rocks to perennial plants!

3. Add Lighting

Landscape lighting is an effective way to give your existing design emphasis and dramatic effect. In addition to its practical uses, outdoor lighting can bring beauty and artistic highlight to your flower beds, entryway, outdoor living spaces, and backyard.

4. Mix It Up

Rather than using just one or the other, consider a combination of mulch and rock landscaping used together. Wood mulch used with different types of rock can transform an ordinary design into something exquisite. For example, a mulched bed with a boulder and some tallgrass plantings is a classic look of elegance.

You can also combine different types of rock. Some good examples of this are rock gardens and dry stream beds. And to further elevate the design, you can add a water feature or some other decorative artistic accent piece. Placing a stone bench, a Holey Limestone boulder, or a boulder bubbler are a few elements that would bring different dimensions to play in your landscape design.

A Holey Limestone boulder turned into a unique water feature, bubbling water out of it!
A holey Limestone boulder bubbler from Southwest Stone Supply is both a boulder and a water feature!
Bubbler fountain as a water feature using a volcanic rock surrounded by granite - rock and pebbles as focal point in a garden landscape.
Bubbler fountain with a volcanic rock surrounded by granite rock and pebbles in a garden landscape.

Conclusion: Which is Better for Landscaping, Mulch or Rock?

In short, it’s your choice! In other words, some people are simply going to prefer one ground cover solution over the other. And one will better suit specific applications than the other.

In summary, mulch and rock landscaping both have distinct advantages and disadvantages. So before making your choice, if you’re unsure, you can always call your local landscape supply company (that’s us!) and get some expert insight into your need. Consider your specific requirements, preferences, human resources, and budget. Then weigh the plusses and minuses we’ve outlined for you here.

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