An Opinion on Mulch

Somehow, in a conversation with a co-worker, he confessed that he no longer "did mulch". I wasn't quite sure what he meant. Was he letting the ground go bare? No! He had "mulched" with rocks, specifically lava rock. The permanent mulch!

I humbly submit that rocks are not mulch, rocks are loose paving. Show me a garden with rocks for mulch, and watch me run the other way, fast! When you have rocks, it is difficult to replant anything where those rocks are. And, no matter how hard you try, the rocks end up outside of the bed and in the grass.

And rocks are so permanent! Just ask my sister. She lives in the family homestead. Back in the 70's, before you could order truckloads of organic mulch, the "fashion" was to put rocks around all the landscape beds. So, that's what my Dad did. He ordered a big load of rocks and had all of us "kids" help him spread it around the shrubs around the house. Now, my sister is dealing with these rocks. She can hardly plant anything because of the rocks. And, over time, the rocks have shifted around and thinned in some spots, and spread into the grass.

There is one bed in front by the sidewalk to the front door where they tried to dig the rocks out so they could plant some new shrubs. They didn't know where to put the rocks, so they hauled them over to another side of the house and dumped them. It seemed like no matter how deep they dug, they kept running into more rocks. Finally, they just gave up and planted as best they could. Then one spring, my sister got tired of looking at the those old rocks. So, she ordered up some hardwood mulch and just put it on top of the rocks. It looks good, and is more the style of today's gardens, but we all know that beneath that mulch are rocks, and more rocks.

We had a neighbor around the corner, and this woman bought some of rocks that were really white and shiny, almost like marble chips. She put them in a bed with a path in it that led up to her front door. The path wasn't really a concrete sidewalk, but a bunch of gray stepping stones. She put up a sign to ask people to "please don't walk on the rocks". I guess she didn't want them to get dirty or get kicked around unnecessarily. I can only imagine what she did to keep the leaves off in the fall, so there would be no organic matter build up or dirt in with her white rocks.

Anyway, that's just my opinion that rocks aren't mulch. I know others like to use rocks, and that's fine with me. I just find them to be too permanent. I prefer cypress mulch around my shrubs and trees, and cocoa hull mulch or compost from the compost bins around my perennials and vegetables, but that's just me.

(Don't get me started on mulch made out of old tires that are cut into little pieces and dyed to look like cypress mulch!)


  1. A couple of years ago, there was a story in the paper about a school that had a grassy hillside that the school children used as a shortcut between buildings. Someone 'in charge' did not like the resulting footpaths across the green hillside so the school went to great expense to haul in several truck loads of large bolders to 'landscape' the hillside. These were not little stones, but large jagged edged limestone rocks. Children, being children, did not fear the steep hillside of dangerous rocks, and still ingnored the posted 'keep off' signs. But, still, children being children, many of them kept running and falling on these rocks. After having to send a few children to the ER with cuts and bruises from tumbling down over the rocks, the school had the pleasure of paying to have the rocks hauled off and the ground re-sodded.

  2. I live in AZ. and I remember 23 years ago when I moved here I was appalled that people had tons of rocks in their yard instead of grass. Some Senior citizens even sprayed the rocks green. Well today I am one of those front yard rock people. I have determined rocks are landscaping. I am just too lazy to try to keep a front yard mowed and manicured. You are correct though, they are not mulch.

  3. My husband and I were taking a romantic evening stroll around the homestead the other evening, enjoying the pond with the coy fish, the beatiful buenerra (I'm sure that is spelled wrong, and I'm sure "the gardening aunt" will correct me!), the bleeding hearts, etc. We went through the gate, and there, staring defiantly at us there they were. THE ROCKS!! 40 year old rocks. Somehow able to work their way up through the landscaping fabric and 5 years of mulch. They are on top of the mulch, in the grass, everywhere. There are so many that the 10, 8, and 4 year old won't tackle them for any amount of money, bribery, or threats. Continuing past "the rock garden" we come to the front yard and there are the feable attempts to plant in amongst the rocks/mulch. Ivy -- it's 3 years old and still just one whimpy little strand (I have only envy, no sympathy, for the gardening aunt who has too much). Then to the front door. We gave up ever being able to grow anything because of all the gravel. We planted pots in amongst the rocks and the gravel and now we plant flowers in the pots. So, the moral of the story is THINK HARD before substituting rocks for mulch if you have any gardening genes in you. Generations of future homeowners will pay the repurcussions of your actions.

    The sister with the homestead.

  4. I am always careful not to over correct any eager ambitious gardener.

    If she wants to call her Brunnera a "buenerra", so be it. Either way, False Forget-me-not is a charming spring flower!

    And if her koi fish are coy, okay by me!

    After all, she has to suffer with the rocks!

  5. I have mostly pine bark mini-nuggets for mulch in most of my beds, but have heard that wood mulch in beds around a house can attract termites. With my house coming up on its 10 year anniversary, I do worry a bit about that. I hate rocks and the "rubbermaid" type mulch so I continue, but I wonder if I am just asking for termites?!

  6. I read some stuff on the Internet from extension services. I don't think the mulch is going to be a contributing factor to termites, especially since you don't have all that much of it right next to the concrete block foundation.

  7. Hi ##name##, I've been working on the backyard a few years. We finally added a pond and a waterfall but I am certainly openlandscaping tips to some tips on how to make our backyard look great for this spring and summer.


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