Nothing spoils your carefully manicured lawn and freshly updated softscaping than a bed of dirt.  You’ve dug up beds, planted trees, arranged your annuals and perennials but never quite finished the softscaping.  Mulch and rocks add a finishing touch to your well-planned softscaping design and give your home a rich and sophisticated look. Mulch or rock applications can give your beds a polished and finished look for even the most basic landscaping design.  A polished and finished landscaping will always have a positive effect on your design and bring more interest to your home than a home with unfinished or outdated landscaping.  One more positive thing about mulch and rocks, it cuts down on weeding so your softscape always looks like you spent hours on it.

Bark Mulch vs. Decorative Rock

There are plenty of good arguments of using one mulch over the other and with the good, there is also the bad.  When you are trying to decide whether to use decorative rock or bark mulch there are many things to consider.  Cost, maintenance, weeds, soil fertilization, water drainage and heat retention all have their place in bark mulch and decorative rock.  When it comes time to make the decision both bark mulch and decorative rock have a place in your softscaping.  Take into consideration the area and which type of mulching would work best.  If you live on a dirt road with no sidewalks and you want to edge your driveway or if you have a swimming pool that needs some decorative softscaping, decorative rock may be the better alternative.  To add flair to your softscaping beds near the front of your house, bark mulch may be the better alternative.  In some cases, utilizing both would bring a finished and elegant look to any softscape design.

Benefits of Bark Mulch?

Bark mulch is a gardener’s secret weapon.  Besides adding a finished look and stunning beauty, properly used mulch can have a positive effect on your softscaping.

  • It suppresses weeds and makes sprouted weeds easier to pull.
  • Gives softscaping beds a finished and professional look.
  • Insulates the soil against heat and cold.
  • It prevents compacted soil during downpours.
  • Slows stormwater runoff.
  • Slows evaporation so you don’t need to water as frequently.
  • It’s lightweight and easy to apply.
  • It’s less expensive upfront than decorative rock.

As with any positives, there can be negatives.  People LOVE mulch and sometimes think more is better.  A love affair with mulch should mean a little goes a long way.

  • Your beds need only about a 2” depth of mulch to help prevent weed sprouts and soil runoff.
  • Avoid the ‘Mulch Volcano’.  This is when mulch is piled at the base of the tree.  This promotes decay of the trees’ protective bark, harbors rodents, and can cause abnormal root growth.
  • Use more than 3” of mulch and you can smother roots so they can’t get any air or water.
  • Keep mulch away from tree trunks and make sure it doesn’t build up at the base of shrubs.
  • Don’t smother perennials in mulch as it may rot the plant and prevent rot.

Mulching Your Yard.

When purchasing mulch look for good, organic mulch that smells earthy and has a damp odor.  Stay away from mulch that smells like ammonia, vinegar, alcohol or sulfur as it could harm your plants.

  • Apply your mulch mid to late spring when the ground starts to warm.
  • Apply a 2-3 inch thick layer.
  • Extend your mulch beyond the plant’s outermost edge of leaves.  Pull mulch back 2 to 4 inches from shrub stems, tree trunks and perennial stems.
  • Water your mulch after application to help anchor the mulch and to prevent mulch from leeching too much moisture from the soil.

Why Use Decorative Rock?

Decorative rock has its place in your softscape.  Anyone who has a hilly or sloping yard knows that one heavy rain and bark mulch will wash away.  Decorative rock has most of the same advantages as bark mulch and can be used effectively in your softscaping as a solo component or in combination with bark mulch.  The biggest difference between bark mulch and decorative rock is upfront costs.  Decorative rock is more expensive up front but won’t need to be replaced every year as bark mulch will and decorative rock will recoup its value over a few years.

  • It suppresses weeds and makes sprouted weeds easier to pull.
  • Gives softscaping beds a finished and professional look.
  • Insulates the soil against heat and cold.
  • It prevents drainage issues for problem areas.
  • Slows evaporation so you don’t need to water as frequently.
  • Its value holds up year after year, therefore, increasing your home value.
  • It’s fireproof.
  • It’s wind-resistant and won’t wash away as easily as bark mulch.

Rocking Your Yard.

The variety of decorative rock is extensive.  They come in varying sizes, colors and shapes and offer more variety than its counterpart, bark mulch.  Lava, granite, quartz rock and pea gravel can all have their place in your softscaping and if you have trouble choosing just one then pick two, they all work well together.  When planning your decorative rock softscaping placements consider these few tips to ensure you receive the most benefits from your designs.

  • Decorative rocks hold heat and raise the soil temperature so be sure not to place them near delicate plants.
  • Decorative rocks do not add to soil health.
  • Decorative rocks create alkaline soil and may hurt trees.
  • It’s heavy and may be difficult to spread and removal is quite time-consuming.

The 2018 Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features states that 27% of realtors have suggested sellers complete an overall landscape upgrade before attempting to sell their homes and 11% said the project most recently sealed a deal for them, resulting in a closed transaction.  Eighty-five percent of those upgrading their landscaping but not in the market to sell said they had a greater desire to be at home since the upgrade and 79% feel a sense of accomplishment. 

Careful planning will ensure that you get the biggest return on your landscaping investment and increase your home value by 5% to 15%.  Hiring an experienced landscaping designer is your first step in increasing your home’s value and curb appeal.