Mulch vs. Rock: When and How to Use Each One wallacegardencenter

Mulch vs. Rock: When and How to Use Each One

Here’s a rundown of the differences between these two options for healthier, more resilient gardens.

Mulch and rock serve similar purposes in the garden and provide many valuable benefits. However, there are many key differences to consider when choosing between one or the other! If you’re designing a garden or landscape and aren’t sure whether you should go the mulch route or the rock route, keep reading to learn all the pros and cons of each material and how to use them properly.


Should I Use Rock or Mulch?

Whether you’re better off using rock or mulch depends on many factors! The size of your garden or landscape, your budget, and your ideal style aesthetics are all things to consider. Here is a rundown of each material, how to use them, their benefits, and their challenges.


Wallace's Garden Center-Mulch vs. Rock When and How to Use Each One -choices of rock mulch in a store

Using Rocks Instead of Mulch

Spreading a layer of rocks across the soil surface of your garden will serve a similar purpose to mulch. They block the sun, which helps keep the soil cooler, slowing the evaporation of moisture. They also block weed seeds from finding a place to germinate and take root, so your plants won’t have to compete for available soil nutrients. In winter, rocks help insulate the ground so your tender perennials won’t suffer from the cold. Here are some things to think about if you’re considering using rocks in flower beds and landscape designs.



There are many different colors and materials of river rock from which to choose, but they generally tend to look more sophisticated and high-end. If you prefer more polished looks and aren’t into the rustic vibe, rocks will look lovely in your garden designs. You can choose rocks with a uniform color and size or choose a multi-tonal mix for more dimension and contrast.



Stone lasts for an incredibly long time, so you won’t need to replace them often. If they start getting dirty, you can simply rinse them off with the hose.


Wallace's Garden Center-Mulch vs. Rock When and How to Use Each One -river rock around tree trunk


Rocks are much more expensive than mulch, but you won’t need to replace them nearly as often. Essentially, it’s a one-time investment instead of a repeated smaller purchase.



Rocks provide barrier protection and an attractive style, but that’s the extent of their function. Spread a layer of rocks across the surface of the soil, being careful not to pile them up onto your plants. Stone is heavy, and if you aren’t careful, you could damage your delicate plants or strain your back during application! If you’re working with larger rocks, apply a single layer. If you’re working with finer gravel, try to keep that layer around 1–2 inches deep.

Wallace's Garden Center-Mulch vs. Rock When and How to Use Each One -adding mulch to garden

Using Mulch Instead of Rocks

Mulch has long served as a multipurpose tool for making gardens easier to care for and healthier overall. You can choose several different materials—shredded bark or bark chips are the most popular, but some folks also use straw, mulched leaves, or pine needles. Wallace’s recommends shredded hardwood or shredded cedar mulch for ease of use, attractiveness and cost.



Mulch has a more natural look than rock, though there are many bark mulches with colored dyes to make them prettier. Wallace’s offers shredded cedar in natural cedar color or colored with natural dye in red, black or brown.



Since mulch is composed of natural, biodegradable materials, it will break down over time, so you’ll need to replace it every year or two. As it breaks down, it will return organic matter to the soil in your beds. Raking your mulch and reapplying a new, fresh batch will help keep it looking tidy and stylish. It’s more lightweight than stone, so it’s easy to transport, apply, and remove.

Wallace's Garden Center-Mulch vs. Rock When and How to Use Each One -wheelbarrow of mulch for garden


Mulch is relatively inexpensive, but you’ll need to rebuy it after it breaks down, so it’s a repeated small investment. You can also make your own for free by raking leaves and running your lawnmower over them repeatedly.



The biodegradable nature of mulch actually provides significant benefits to your garden—as it breaks down, it deposits nutrients into the soil, helping to feed your plants. It’s like a slow-release compost! Whatever material you decide to use as a soil barrier for your garden, the benefits will amaze you! You’ll spend less time watering and weeding, and your plants will grow stronger and healthier.


Visit Wallace’s to see our selection of mulch and rock for sale in Iowa! For bulk mulch deliveries in the Spring, you can order online from our website here.

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