Mulch vs. Rock: When Should I Use Mulch Or Riverstone?

As a rule, use mulch whenever you can. While there are specific instances in which Riverstone is the better choice (and we’ll get into those later in the article) mulch carries more benefits, particularly for plants, than stone does.

That doesn’t mean that rock has no perks whatsoever, though. There are great places to use rock. Continue reading below to discover the best landscaping uses for mulch and rock!

When should I use mulch?

You should use mulch whenever you’re landscaping in an area that includes a lot of foliage, trees, or plants.

Unlike stone, a layer of mulch provides the soil with a significant amount of nutrients. It also assists soil in the absorption and retention of moisture. This, also, is unlike rock, which leeches moisture from the ground.

Mulch reduces the growth and spread of weeds.

Finally, mulch allows for an easy way to create smooth and consistent lines along your earthen bed edge without a lot of extra work.

As a general rule, unless you’re working with one of the specific scenarios we outline in the next section, or you’re firmly committed to the aesthetic look of rock over mulch, we suggest using mulch.

When should I use rock?

You should use stone when you’re landscaping in two common circumstances:

  1. When you’re landscaping in an area that isn’t suitable for plants, like under a porch.
  2. When daylighting a drainpipe out of the earth, you may wish to lay some Riverstone around that pipe to prevent soil from washing away.

If you’re not working with one of those two scenarios, you’re likely better off working with mulch. Stone simply has too many liabilities.

Stone gets hot

Because stone heats up in direct sunlight, the moisture underneath it will tend to evaporate out into the air more quickly. This dries out the soil underneath and around the stone.

Stone also gets hot enough to burn the underside of the foliage of some kinds of plants. Mulch does not have this problem.

Stone invites weeds

Because rock provides a lot of nooks and crannies for plant growth, weeds tend to thrive in rock landscaping. You’ll need to keep an eye on rocky areas to ensure they don’t become weedy and unruly even with landscape fabric underneath (which is recommended).

Stone is more difficult to edge

Because of the nature of stone, it takes more effort to create a clean and crisp looking edge. You’ll need to pull the stone back by hand, create an earthen-edge, and then place the stone back in by hand. Often times stone is placed, never edged, and then weeds creep in rapidly. These edges are also traditionally sprayed with harsh chemicals to kill the weeds that often times leaches into your lawn areas killing the grass beyond where you intended. Both of these scenarios create an unkempt or unpleasing look.

The advantages of stone

Despite its liabilities, stone does have some advantages.

Some people absolutely love the look of Riverstone landscaping. For these folks, the drawbacks of using rock are worth it to get that unique look.

Also, rock is incredibly low maintenance. Because it doesn’t wash away or significantly degrade, you generally will not have to replace it for many years, if ever.

Final Thoughts

As with so much in the world of landscaping, the debate about mulch vs. rock really boils down to personal preference and circumstance. There will be cases where one or the other is clearly the better choice, however, and you should be careful to heed your landscaper’s advice when this is the case.