Unless you have your head stuck in a flowerpot, you probably know mulch can make your landscaping healthier. With a properly applied layer, you’ll see fewer weeds, better moisture retention and get temperatures better suited to healthy plants and flowers.
But what about the ability of mulch and landscaping stone to beautify your outdoor spaces and make them more enjoyable for you and your guests to eat, drink and be merry?
“It doesn’t take a whole lot to make your landscaping pop,” says Andrew Moser, an exterior design expert with Goshen’s Kuert Outdoor Living. “Mulch gives it that finishing touch, in addition to helping improve the health of your plants.”
Aside from traditional wood mulch, which comes in a variety of styles and colors, rubber mulch and decorative stone are invaluable materials in outdoor living areas. By following a few tips from local landscaping and mulching experts, you can make them work for you this spring, summer and beyond.
1: Think outside the flower box
According to Moser, mulch and mulch-like materials may be used “all around the house”: encircling trees, in play areas, on walkways, for smaller footpaths, in seating areas, or as the base floor for an outdoor room. Josh Welker, a landscape architect and owner of Stone Ridge Landscaping out of Goshen, agrees.
“We see mulch and stone being used in different walkways and paths throughout the landscapes we’re doing,” he says. “It maintains that area and makes it a cleaner pathway.”
Using mulch and stone together can increase the drama of the view, with mulch going down in more plant-intensive areas and stone in more highly trafficked spots, Welker says. Varying stone sizes and shapes play nicely together, with larger rocks being better for areas prone to collecting debris, and smaller stone being more pedestrian friendly.
“A loose stone can be cost effective for a small fire-feature area or for outdoor rooms,” Welker says. “Having that durable and textured floor outdoors is great for eating or enjoying a TV show or hanging out and dining with friends.”
2: Pick the right pieces to accent your home
Deciding where to use ground wood-mulch versus spreadable stone is only the beginning. Mulch comes in multiple wood varieties, with cedar and oak-based hardwood being the most popular. Wood mulch may be dyed red, brown or other earth tones, and the grind can be course or fine.
“The natural colors seem to be the most popular,” Moser says. “It’s a matter of personal preference — some people want to match the brick on their house, for example.”
According to Moser, the cedar product lasts a bit longer as it’s naturally corrosion resistant. But double-ground hardwood mulch is better for your plants — it breaks down and enriches your soil more quickly. Cedar also has a more pleasant aroma.
Several rubber mulch varieties are available, and give play areas and other heavily used spots a durable, springy-underfoot characteristic.
Landscape stone is available in a variety of materials: limestone, river rock, yellow rock, red lava and white marble rock. “You can use landscape stone just about anywhere you can mulch,” Moser says. “It’s going to cost more, but the maintenance goes down.”
Welker says the most popular items for his customers are the various sizes of limestone — which have a bluish hue — and larger, loose pavers. “The larger stones can be more economical because the labor costs are reduced,” he says.
3: Proper maintenance is key
Nothing lasts forever, except maybe landscape stone. Mulch? That’s a different story.
“Mulch in particular, every spring people have a lot of it to replace,” says Steve Fidler, Kuert Outdoor Living president. “There could be instances where stone requires some annual maintenance, but that’s not a big segment.”
Breakdown of each mulch product can vary slightly, with cedar being the hardiest, but it’s good practice to refresh your mulch beds once a year to sharpen them up, Moser says.
“It all depends on weather conditions—sun, rain and snow,” he says. “If you don’t mind it being faded, you could do it once every two years, but it’s nice to top it off and make everything fresh.”
Welker says where the minimum mulch cover in the first year is 3 to 4 inches, subsequent years require only 1 to 2 inches. Giving your mulch a stir in the spring can limit the amount you need to add.
Whether you end up going with mulch for its natural curb appeal, stone for its low maintenance costs or a combination of the two for higher contrast, the right landscaping materials will ensure you’ll have an entertaining area to be proud of as temperatures warm.
“It’s neat when you see a freshly mulched landscape bed,” Welker says. “It just looks so sharp in the spring.”