Adding mulch or river rock to your yard finishes off your landscaping with a clean and polished look. Both products have excellent features to suit different areas of your yard, but knowing when to use which can be challenging. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide to define those lines a little better for you and guide you in making the right decisions for your landscape!
Adding shredded bark mulch to your yard is the easiest and, initially, most affordable option. It is simple to install yourself with a wheelbarrow, shovel, and rake, and is available in a variety of colors and wood types, including options local to Moline. And it doesn’t just look good— it comes with a ton of added benefits, too! The importance of mulching can’t be overstated. Mulch adds nutrients to your soil as it breaks down, moderates soil temperature, and retains water. It also insulates your plants in winter and in summer, and you can rake it up around your plants in the fall to offer more protection from the cold winter. Because it is a great insulator it also helps to reduce plant stress caused by fluctuating temperatures, while still being easy to dig through to add annuals in spring. Mulch isn’t an all-in-one solution, though. Because mulch breaks down over time, you’ll need to top it up almost every year to keep it looking fresh, which may get costly over the years. It also isn’t great in damp areas because it retains so much moisture that it can cause drainage problems. The color of mulch will also fade over time with sun exposure and can be flammable, too. No to mention, cleaning mulch up in spring can be difficult— you’ll likely end up picking up plenty of it when removing old leaves and foliage.
River rock is one of the lowest-maintenance options available— add it once and it won’t need to be topped up again! Although, after 8-10 years, it may benefit from another layer added on top. River rock can be easily power washed to clean it up and doesn’t break down over time. And when it comes to spring clean-up, if you don’t have too much foliage and debris, you can easily power-blow it all off! River rock is great around perennials as it does not restrict or inhibit growth. It’s also great for succulents and plants that like warm soil and for damp areas, as it improves drainage and allows air to circulate well.
Offering hard edges and clean lines, river rock is an excellent choice for metal edging or concrete curbs. Plus, it is non-flammable, so it’s safe to be used right against your home! It’s also a great option for leveling an area to place sculptures, fountains, containers, or pots, and it comes in a variety of colors, shapes, and stone sizes to customize your outdoor space to match your aesthetic. As with mulch, river rock isn’t perfect and has a few limiting features to note. Like with mulch, it can be difficult to add annual plants to, because it can be hard to dig through to get to the soil. Unlike mulch, rocks don’t break down over time, so they don’t add any nutrients to the soil, meaning you’ll need to be more vigilant with fertilizing. Rocks also absorb and reflect sunlight. This raises the surrounding soil temperature, causing it to dry faster. It also tends to make the soil around it more alkaline, which is not great for trees. Though it is easier to clean, you may still need to do some cleaning by hand in spring as dirt will slowly collect in between the rocks and, eventually, weeds may start to grow. It is also quite heavy and can be difficult to install yourself or to move if you decide to reshape or relocate your beds at a later point. Though, our landscape team here in Moline would be more than happy to lend you a helping hand with that.
Which Should You Choose: Mulch or River Rock?
The choice mostly comes down to personal preferences and budget. The cost of mulch versus river rock is significant— river rock being up to 3x more expensive than mulch. But, while the upfront cost difference is apparent, it’s important to remember that even though mulch is much more affordable initially, it will need to be freshened up regularly, meaning you’ll invest just as much over a few years. So, over the long run, both options probably work out to similar investment levels. Although, why even choose between them at all? Try adding both to your yard! They complement each other well and suit different areas of your landscape. Come down to Meyer and have a chat with our experts— we can help you find out the best solution to put that final finishing polish on your yard!