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We currently have stone next to our house however we have been getting quite a bit of weeds. Its probably been some time since any rocks were added. Basically I am looking for the pros and cons for stones vs mulch next to a house. (how often to add/replace, costs, etc)

Update: Climate - Wisconsin so colds and hots. Rocks do currently have landscape fabric down but it could easily be 20+ years.

I am looking for a very basic list of pros cons. A few things to get it started

  1. Adding stone/mulch monthly/yearly/??etc?
  2. Resistance to weeds
  3. Cost (probably initial cost + if have to add to it yearly)
  4. Impact of water - get washed away? store moisture? redirect flow?
  5. Aesthetic - home value?
  6. Environmental Impact?
  7. Benefits/Cons of having it close to foundation?
  • it all depends, whether there is a landscape fabric underneath the stone, how many weeds with windborne seeds there are in the neighborhood, type of mulch, your climate and location – kevinsky Jun 24 '15 at 19:13
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I'm not a fan of stone/gravel mulch. I use it in one spot for a specific reason but it's hard to keep it looking clean. Weeds will still grow in it or past it. Either because the landscape fabric underneath deteriorates or because organic material falls onto the gravel and collects in the spaces between the gravel and allows seeds to germinate.

If you want to clean it well you basically have to set up a sifting operation like an 1850's prospector. Since it doesn't decompose topping it off with fresh gravel just creates a deeper mulch bed. As the landscape fabric wears out the gravel can sink into the soil so when that happens I guess you can top off then.

It doesn't really suppress weeds as well as organic mulches. It's mostly the landscape fabric that does that. If you ever want to change it it's a giant PITA.

The microclimate around the gravel bed will be warmer and retain heat longer which may cause issues with some plants or require more frequent watering.

I'm not a big fan of generic wood mulch either. For wood mulch I prefer cedar mulch because that's one of the better choices available around me. The oils in it can repel insects such as termites, cedar mulch is less likely to harbor artillery fungus (as does cypress and pine park mulch), it lasts a long time, I don't have to worry as much about scrap pressure treated wood or toxic paint winding up in the mulch and I like the smell when I put it down.

A 1/2 cubic foot bag of gravel costs about $4. For that same $4 I can get a high quality 3 cubic foot bag of cedar mulch. It's lighter, easier to work with, suppresses weeds when put on thick enough, breaks down to add nutrients to the soil. Insulates the soil and retains moisture and I like the way it looks.

You put on about 3" the first year, then add about 1" every year, or even every other year depending on your climate. After a month or so the color fades to grey. You can get died mulches but the color only lasts about a season and will need to be topped off to look new or you can get some mulch dyes to refresh the color.

Haven't had an issue with either washing away but the cedar mulch seems to hold better on slopes.

Aesthetics... when done properly stone mulch can have a very dramatic and high end look. When it starts to look like crap then it looks like crap. Organic mulches are easy to refresh and have looking like new by only topping off a bit every year.

Costs for a 100 square foot bed with 3" of mulch:

Stone: Initial cost 50 bags * $4 = $200 though 50 bags is a lot to transport bulk pricing would be cheaper.

Cedar: Initial cost 9 bags * $4 = $36 Top off with 3 bags every year = $12 a year. It would take over 12 years for the cedar mulch to cost as much as the stone. Are you sure you're not going to want to rearrange your landscape, want to change color scheme in mulch or will still like the same look for such a long period of time?

Spreading around some extra mulch on top of beds to me feels a lot easier than trying to clean gravel beds.

  • Rocks are forever. Once you put them down, you'll spend forever trying to pick up the last one if you ever decide you want a Wisconsin style landscape, instead of something out of the desert southwest. There are plenty of choices for native plants if you don't want the hassle of Kentucky bluegrass: amazon.com/Landscaping-Native-Plants-Wisconsin-Steiner/dp/… – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 24 '15 at 23:09
  • Great post! Here in WI, bark mulch makes a lot of sense. Woody plants grow well and abundantly here, so chips are plentiful and cheap. And they do seem to work well as mulch for our native plants. I do see a lot of rock mulch around here, but it seems to work well with only a very narrow range of very hardy low-maintenance plants. I notice a lot of heat-stressed plants in them, especially later in summer when it gets quite hot here. It only looks really nice when it is brand new. – michelle Jun 25 '15 at 19:25
  • by "next to our house," do you mean against the house or just in a bed near the house? – That Idiot Jun 25 '15 at 20:35
  • @michelle I updated my post to specify why I use cedar mulch and not just the generic wood mulch or wood chips. – OrganicLawnDIY Jun 25 '15 at 20:39
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    @stormy very few sewage treatment facilities process only residential sewage. Many process comercial and industrial sewage as well. Even with residential people dump cleaners, pesticides, bleach, drain cleaners, antibiotics, steroids, petroleum products as well as a hole slew of pathogenic bacteria that may only become dormant during treatment. You name it. see water.epa.gov/scitech/wastetech/biosolids/upload/… There is a lot of momentum to ban it and some localities have already done so. I mentioned what I used in my answer. – OrganicLawnDIY Jun 28 '15 at 23:52
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It would be nice to see what you are talking about. Please send a photo or two. I am assuming by 'stones' you mean river rock or cobble that someone has put in around the foundation of your home...on top of landscape fabric. Yes? This DOES help keep water and soil from splashing up onto your siding. Do you have any kind of foundation plantings?

If you've got lots of weeds in these rocks, I'd use glyphosate (Roundup) on a wind-LESS day. It will take about 2-3 weeks to kill existing weeds. They'll get brown and ugly but very easy to rake/pull up. Then I'd get this major vinegar stuff so that no weeds can ever grow back in that area! I don't remember the brand name but it is a high-percentage of acid and what it does is make the soil that has accumulated in the rocks on top of the landscape fabric too acid for any growth. If you someday want a foundation planting you simply add lime and test for pH until it is 5.5 - 7.0 and plants are then able to grow in this ground. Providing you remove all fabric and stones first.

Considering aesthetics and home value, ideally a building has a foundation planting. Artistically this 'ties' the vertical walls into the landscape by providing a transition. Hedges are perfect for this. If you are able to plant at least 2 1/2' - 3' from the base of your home's foundation and still leave the fabric and rocks then DO SO! Do not use the vinegar!! The shade from the hedge will inhibit most weeds. I'd fluff and build up a planting bed before planting anything. What you plant is vital and I'd need a few more details before suggestion of plant materials.

It is hard for me to focus just on your foundation plantings however. You should sit down and sketch out what you've got and include it with photos. From there I could see a bigger picture to help. I am a Landscape Architect and hate to see home owners putting lots of money into their landscape without some professional advice and every homeowner that cares about their landscape...the value of their home should have a MASTER PLAN.

I hate non-decomposed mulches like bark, cedar...stones, gravel are ok if you aren't caring about plant and soil health. Landscape fabric is NOT FOR WEED SUPPRESSION!! It is the worst thing one can do for their plants and soil not to mention it is worthless for weed suppression. It works great under gravel so that the gravel doesn't disappear into the soil and has to be replaced. Great only for driveways and walkways...soft 'patios'... Otherwise NEVER USE it!

Check to see if your sewer company makes mulch out of, yes, your poo poo!! If they do it has rigorous requirements and testing. By the time it is for sale as a completely decomposed absolutely beautiful fine, dark taupe and natural color, there is nothing that resembles what it once was. It should smell wonderful...the only caveat is it shouldn't be used on vegetable gardens as it has higher heavy metals in it...as a mulch it has NO weed seeds nor any pesticide residues!! Put it on a few inches thick and it smothers all existing seeds in your soil. Sure seeds will blow in but they are extremely easy to pull!

The main thing is finding decomposed mulch you KNOW what it is composed of...and this stuff is the only mulch you can purchase that is tested (5X), comes with a list. Any other mulches are completely suspect! The only other option is to make your own mulch. Takes time, some labor but tough to get it looking nice and be able to do all of your plants beds.

By putting decomposed mulch on top of your beds you are FEEDING you soil's animal community that is critical for soil health and ultimately your plant's health. You don't have to do any tilling, mixing! The micro and macro organisms that HAVE TO have decomposed organic material to eat and multiply...come up out of the soil, eat this stuff then go back into the soil and poop it out. They mix the organics FOR YOU. Your soil, no matter it's original composition (sand, silt, clay) will be vastly improved. Your plants will look vastly different...I am not kidding! Be careful with over fertilizing...this stuff has lots of Nitrogen so this needs to be considered with any fertilizer program. Your soil has to be alive and thriving before your plants will ever be truly healthy.

Send pictures and we can help an awful lot more...thanks!

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The previous owner of my home used lava rock as mulch in one area, and white gravel around some trees. I removed as much as I could from the surface but gave up trying to pry it out of the ground. I can't even dig a hole to plant anything so I put just bark mulch over the area around the trees.

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