Finishing your landscaping project with river rock or mulch gives your yard a clean and polished look. However, both materials serve specific purposes and are suited for different areas of your yard. In this article we’ll compare and contrast both materials and provide suggestions on where to use them.
Shredded bark mulch is the easiest and most affordable solution in the short-term. Mulch is very easy to install, usually only requiring a little bit of effort, a wheelbarrow, shovel, and rake. Mulch is also available in a wide variety of colors and wood species. Depending on the placement, mulch naturally comes with benefits that may help incorporated surrounding plants.
As mulch breaks down and decomposes, it adds valuable nutrients to the soil. Mulch is also good at retaining water and moderating soil temperature. With a thick layer applied to flower beds, mulch acts as insulation protecting plants from harsh summer and winter conditions. This can relieve stress on delicate annuals, and being a light and malleable material, it offers perennials plenty of room to grow.
If you have a green thumb and enjoy caring for a wide range of plants, mulch may offer your yard key benefits beyond being appealing to the eye. However, mulch isn’t always the perfect solution.
No way around it, mulch requires much more maintenance. Between windstorms, sun damage, and natural decomposition, additional mulch is needed each year to replenish your beds. Mulch, over time, looks terrible and loses all of its key benefits for surrounding plants if it isn’t refreshed regularly. While the initial cost of mulch is much less expensive than river rock, replenishing mulch year-after-year can become quite costly.
Further, mulch can become a fire danger in dry climates. In most areas throughout Colorado Springs, it’s not recommended to lay the ground with kindling leading right up to your doorstep. Wildfires have devastated our region and community over the last few years and fire mitigation is major concern for homeowners along the foothills.
Likewise, mulch isn’t recommended in extremely wet areas. Mulch holds on to moisture, and if it’s placed in an area that is continually exposed to water or serves as drainage for your lot, you can end up with a soupy, unwelcomed mess.
In short, we only recommend mulch to true green thumbs and landscaping enthusiasts – people who enjoy, and regularly work on their yard. Mulch is great in flower beds, gardens, and surrounding certain types trees and bushes – but only if you’re dedicated to maintaining it.
Low maintenance. Done. Moving on, haha. When installed properly, river rock is an immensely popular choice in dry climates. Colorado Springs is continually faced with droughts, which leads to watering restrictions, and terrible looking lawns and yards for most of the summer. With most homeowners moving toward xeriscaping, or at least a xeriscape hybrid yard, river rock provides a year-round attractive solution.
River rock is fire resistant, unaffected by sun damage or wind, and doesn’t decompose. River rock is also a top choice for drainage. During flash floods, river rock allows water to flow away from your house and into proper drainage areas.
Blended around trees and other low water using plants, river rock is also easy to keep looking good. With proper landscaping fabric beneath the rock, most weeds have a difficult time developing. River rock can also be power washed – a quick chore that can make your entire yard appear to be brand new.
Initially, the upfront cost of river can be expensive. Generally, it’s about 3x more expensive than mulch. However, after several years, you’ll be spending more on mulch as it requires seasonal refreshing. River rock also isn’t as easy to work with. If you’re installing it yourself, river rock can be very heavy and can turn in to quite the project. Machines and tractors definitely help and are recommended.
Likewise, if your yard is full of traditional plants, they won’t naturally benefit from river rock as they would with mulch. River rock doesn’t hold moisture, moderate temperature, or act as insulation from harsh weather.
For those looking for a long-term, low maintenance solution, river rock is the clear winner. When creatively implemented into your yard, river rock offers tremendous benefits to a dry climate prone to occasional flash flooding. Unless fussing in your yard is significant part of your daily life, in the long-term river rock is most cost beneficial and easiest to maintain.
Looking to add raised flowers, pavers, retaining walls, and curbing to your landscaping? Contact one of our Project Managers for a friendly conversation and free estimate. We’d be happy to listen to your need and help design the perfect solution tailored specifically for you yard.