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Choosing the Best Mulch for Your Garden Beds

Updated: Jun 18

Are you a North Texas home owner looking for insight about the perfect soil cover for your landscaping? Well, you have come to the right place. In this piece, we'll help you decide which is the best garden mulch for your landscape. You'll learn the differences between stone ground cover, wood mulches, recycled rubber and other options for your landscape:

Example of rock mulch used in a garden bed
Example of rock mulch used in a garden bed.

Using landscape rock to mulch your garden beds

Landscape rocks come in an astonishing variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, which you can use to coordinate with your garden to match your taste and style. Large stones can be placed strategically as focal point while smaller stones can be used as a ground cover. Rock is easy to maintain, doesn't attract pests, and stands up virtually forever.

When used as a ground cover, landscape rock placed on top of a good quality weed fabric is an excellent weed deterrent. If weeds do creep in, they can be spot sprayed with 20% Horticultural Vinegar or other organic weed killer to quickly eliminate them without damaging your other plants.

Rocks are perfect for desert gardens or cactus gardens. They're also often used to create rain gardens, especially where drainage is a problem. Water drains through stones more quickly than wood mulches and they don't turn your garden into a muddy mess.

Best garden mulch for keeping critters out

Another advantage of some rock ground covers is that they can be uncomfortable for animals to walk on so domestic pets, squirrels, rabbits, and other mammals that like to dig in the soft earth are deterred from tearing up your beds or eating your plants.

However, landscape rock has some serious disadvantages. Probably the biggest drawback is its weight. Transporting tons of landscape rocks to your home and distributing around your property is more expensive than a comparable amount of wood mulch. And if you decide to remove the rock later, you will have to collect it by hand, which can take many hours of back-breaking labor.

Another significant disadvantage is that rocks don't improve the soil, whereas wood mulches do.

Rocks also get hot in the summer, which can speed dehydration of your plants. On the other hand, some plants dislike wet soils and will do better in a rock bed than in a mulched one. Another possible negative is that rocks tend to make the soil under them more alkaline, which is bad for acid loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, and hydrangeas.

If you've considered all the pros and cons and still plan to use landscape rock, make sure you choose the right pebble size and texture for the area. Small, smooth pea gravel is a good choice for driveways or high-traffic areas where humans may park their cars and walk or play, but for flowerbeds you'll probably want a larger size.

Keep in mind also that river rock is smooth, where other types, such as lava rock, are course and sharp edged. If you want it for keeping animals out, choose a larger, sharper type of stone that doesn't wash away or scatter easily.

Wood mulches

Wood mulches are attractive, have a nice, earthy smell, and provide important benefits to your plants.

As they break down, wood mulches add more essential organic matter to the soil, which can actually double how fast your trees and other plants grow. Laying a one to three inch layer of wood mulch in your garden beds not only reduces weeds, but helps retains moisture better than stone, which can save money on your water bill.

The two most popular wood mulches are finely shredded hardwood and cedar mulch. Unlike pine bark, which easily floats away, hardwood and cedar both stay in place in all but the heaviest rain storms. Because they form a thick mat on top of the soil they are better at preventing weeds, insulating the roots of your plants from heat and cold, and slowing moisture evaporation.

Hardwood mulch has another advantage: it comes in different colors. Most folks prefer the uncolored natural wood. But if you choose a colored mulch, be sure to get one that is done with an organic dye. Chemical dyes can harm your soil and your plants.

Red mulches are usually tinted with organic iron oxide while charcoal is generally used as an organic black dye.

Marshall Grain sells colored hardwood mulches in 2 cu. ft. bags that are colored with an organic vegetable dye. Red is a favorite decorative choice as it makes any landscaped area stand out, especially when installed in an area bordering green grass. Its also complements warm tones such as golds and terra cottas. Black mulch highlights the plants above it and makes any landscaped area standout. It’s also ideal for use against cool tones such as grey brick and stone.

Other mulch types

Recycled rubber

Recycled rubber is a good choice for playgrounds but not for anywhere else. It lasts forever -- literally -- whether in your yard or in a landfill. It never freezes, decomposes, or gets compacted. Nor will it blow away or wash away in storms. Since it does not retain moisture, it's never slippery and always dry for children to play on. Just don't use it around your plants.

Straw mulch

People often confuse straw with hay and there is a very important difference. Hay is a grass (alfalfa) used as animal feed. Straw, on the other hand, is the inedible by-product of wheat (or other grain). Fortunately for gardeners, straw is both more abundant and much less expensive than hay. But it is unattractive and contains weed seeds. Few of us would want to use it as a decorative soil cover, so straw is usually reserved as a mulch for vegetable gardens -- especially strawberries.

Choosing the best decorative mulch for your garden beds depends on your preferences and landscape style. Marshall Grain serves the greater Grapevine Texas area and is ready to show you what we can achieve. Give us a call today.


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