As a landscaping contractor that offers landscape design and installation, we often get questions regarding whether it’s better to use stone or mulch in landscape beds. There are pros and cons to each approach and it isn’t an easy decision. Even though most property owners use mulch, it isn’t always the best solution for the site and even within a single site, it may be a good idea to consider a combination of these landscape materials.
Landscape stone (decorative gravel) comes in many varieties of size, shapes, and color blends. Depending on suppliers in your area there will be different options and depending on your taste or a landscape designer’s taste you will choose differently as based on what is best for your property.
Choosing stone or mulch is a question that should be given some thorough thought by weighing both material’s pros and cons as well as understanding the implications for installation and maintenance of these areas.
Reduced Maintenance: Mulch needs to be re-applied annually because it decomposes and fades. Stone doesn’t require re-application except in rare circumstances. The likelihood of weed growth in stone beds is also slightly less than in a mulch bed.
Appearance Longevity: Stone does not decompose and lasts for decades. However, it may fade slightly and require a top-dressing every 5-10 years. As long as you keep debris out of beds it should stay fairly clean.
Reduced Debris: Stone is great to use around pool areas or hardscaping because, unlike mulch, it won’t wash out onto these areas or dirty up water. Stone also makes a great choice in areas where water tends to wash out mulch on a regular basis.
Reduced Fungal Growth: Stone will not be a food source for fungi to grow on like some mulch. This is particularly important if your site has a history of Artillery Fungus.
Cost: Material cost for stone can be 50%-75% more than most mulch materials. It is also heavier to move around so installation labor will be increased. There are also more recommendations during installation (which we will outline below) which increase the labor. In the instance where beds are converting from mulch to stone, you will also have increased labor and debris as all mulch needs removed. However, the cost is up-front. The investment initially should pay off as annual mulching won’t be required from that point forward.
Lack of Compost: Mulch decomposes each year which provides valuable nutrients for plant materials. Not so with stone.
Reduced Moisture Retention: Soil under mulch will typically retain more water than stone.
The pros and cons help to push you one way or another for a decision. However, know that adding stone to beds requires additional labor and materials than just mulching. If you are considering this project, here are the steps for installation.
- Remove mulch if applicable.
- Add weed fabric. In most situations this should be applied to all bed areas, cutting around plants as necessary. This will discourage stones from settling down into the soil. It doesn’t significantly reduce weed growth in our opinion.
- Add pre-emergent weed control. As you disturb the soil and existing mulch this may encourage previously dormant weed seeds to grown. This material will help to reduce growth in the next month or two.
- Install edging. Most property owners will appreciate stone not making its way out into the lawn, connecting mulch beds, or onto paved surfaces. Steel edging or edgestone are preferred over plastic materials because of their longevity and durability.
- Add 2″-3″ of stone to all bed areas. Please note that most stone has dust on it and will appear different after it is washed off and dries. When you purchase your stone, make sure you’re looking at clean material.
As you can see, using stone could be worthwhile in your landscape but it does come with increased cost and a level of difficulty above mulching. If you would like to talk further about landscape stone options and having someone install it for you, don’t hesitate to contact us.