Landscaping Pros and Cons of Rocks Vs. Mulch

Landscaping Pros and Cons of Rocks Vs. Mulch

After you plant new trees, shrubs and flowers, you want to add the finishing touch–mulch. Mulch makes your landscape look pristine and polished.

But, does it matter what kind of mulch you use? Or, should you perhaps replace mulch with stones?

Read on to learn the pros and cons of mulching with an organic mulch or an inorganic mulch like rocks.

Rocks vs. Mulch–Which Is Better in Flower Beds and Around Trees?

Pros and Cons of Organic Mulch


  • Better Growth: Mulch can nearly double how fast trees and plants grow, according to this study.
  • Less Water: Mulch reduces water evaporation, so you spend less time and money watering!
  • More Nutrients: As mulch breaks down, it adds nutrients that plants need to thrive.
  • Fewer Weeds: Mulch stops weed seeds from sprouting, so you may see 50 percent fewer weeds.
  • Just the Right Temperature: Mulch keeps plants warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
  • Reduce Compaction and Erosion: Mulch reduces soil erosion by up to 85 percent. Plus, people are less likely to walk on mulch, so there’s less soil compaction.


  • Annual Replacement: Depending on your mulch type, you’ll have to replace it every one to four years. So, it’s a recurring cost and time expense.
  • Too Much of a Good Thing: Adding a layer of mulch more than 2-3 inches of mulch stresses out plants.
  • Too Early = Late Blooms: Mulching too early may slow how quickly the ground warms, which means you could see blooms a bit later than normal.
  • Too Late = Weeds: Mulch stops weeds from germinating. If you mulch too late, it may not stop them as much.
  • Check for Seeds: Some organic mulches, like pine bark and hay, may have weed seeds in it.

Pros and Cons of Rocks in the Garden


  • Low Maintenance: You almost never need to replace them.
  • Lower Cost: Because they’re longer lasting, it is generally less expensive to mulch with rocks.
  • Fire-Proof: If you live in an area with wildfires, rocks could be better since they’re nonflammable.
  • Weeds Be Gone: Rocks can keep weeds away longer.
  • Wind-Resistant: Heavy rocks are great at preventing soil erosion in windy areas.
  • Perfect for Rock and Cacti Gardens: Rocks are just right for these garden spaces!


  • Too Hot: Rocks, especially lighter ones, raise the soil temperature, leading to stressed, thirsty plants.
  • No Benefit to Plants: Rocks don’t aid plant growth or soil health.
  • Messy pH: Most trees prefer acidic soil, but rocks create alkaline soil, which can hurt trees.
  • Return of the Weeds: Wind will eventually blow soil between rocks, creating a spot for weeds to grow.
  • No Good for Pruning: Rocks can prohibit rejuvenation pruning, creating unwieldy shrubs.
  • Remove by Hand: If you want to remove stones, you must do it manually, which can be tedious!

Verdict: Organic mulch is overall better than stone. But stone is better than no mulch at all!

Ready to mulch? Watch this video to learn how to mulch your landscape!


  • Mister Anderson October 9, 2018 >Some cons to mulch that aren't listed here is cats will pee in it.. a lot, and scorpions like it more than rocks (since it holds in moisture better), and the worst one of all, rain will carry it into lower areas of your yard, or just drain it away completely. I'm in the process of switching about 50% of my yard to gravel. I still like mulch but I'm keeping it walled in and confined to certain areas of the yard. I would never recommend doing what I did and have 100% mulch yard.
  • The Tree Doctor October 1, 2018 >Hi Michael, Thank you for catching that! We made the proper changes in the post.
  • Michael Weist October 1, 2018 >Hello, In your pros of using rock instead of mulch you stated that rocks are inflammable. Inflammable actually means the same thing as flammable. Rocks aren't flammable. The word should be non-flammable. Thanks for the info. Have a great day. Mike
  • Joy Baker September 10, 2018 >I had mulch brought in during a big relandscape last year. 6 months later noticed major termite infestation. Told by termite company that it is EXTREMELY COMMON to have termite in new mulch and/or attracted to it. Worst and most expensive mistake of my life. Will NEVER have wood mulch near my house again.
  • The Tree Doctor September 4, 2018 >Hi Jude, While termites can be found in mulch, the risk is extremely low. I would not try to remove any soil before mulching because of the risk of root damage to your shrubs. Do try to keep the mulch away from the crowns of your plants as best you can. A two-inch layer should be fine. Hopefully, this helps.
  • jude Cecil September 3, 2018 >Does mulch cause increased risk of termites? Should we reduce the amount of soil in our (shrub)garden before we mulch?
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