River Rock vs. Mulch
Alborn Supply provides River Rock and Mulch in Ocean County
Applying mulch to your garden and landscape can provide a number of benefits, including reduced erosion and water loss, improved soil nutrition and a more balanced soil temperature. Different kinds of mulch provide these benefits at different levels. The river rocks and other small stones often used to prevent weed growth in landscapes are attractive, can help conserve water and require little maintenance, but they don’t nourish or insulate the soil in the same ways as conventional organic mulch.
Cost and Durability
River rock is considerably more expensive than organic mulches such as shredded bark, wood chips or compost. At about three to six times the cost of organic mulches, such as cypress, pine bark or eucalyptus, it is considerably more expensive when you buy it. But because river rocks don’t decompose they may never need to be replaced. This makes river rock potentially less expensive than organic mulch in permanent installations over long periods of time. It works best around long-lived trees and shrubs but is a poor choice for gardens with annual plants.
Most organic mulches must be completely removed and replaced every few years. Some decompose directly into the soil, requiring only replacement. River rock and similar inorganic mulches do not need to be replaced, but they may require periodic washing or the addition of a new upper layer of stones. This type of mulch is heavy and can be difficult to move or adjust after it is put into place.
Mulches made from bark, wood or other organic materials slowly decay into the soil over time, providing a renewable source of nutrients for trees and other plants. River rocks do not provide any additional nutrition. Plants grown under river rock or other inorganic mulch materials may need supplemental feeding.
River rock mulch can be used to decrease water loss in areas where conservation is a significant concern, but they perform poorly when compared to most organic materials. In a study performed by the University of California, small stones held only 0.09 inches of water per 1 foot of mulch, compared to between 1 and 3.64 inches per 1 foot for bark, compost, yard waste and other organic materials. Water loss from soil below rocks is relatively slow, which makes this material a better choice than bare soil.
When combined with landscape fabric, river rocks offer effective weed control without a reduction in air and water movement. This kind of mulch can still be penetrated by aggressive weeds, requiring occasional hand weeding. Organic mulches provide reduced weed deterrent properties unless you choose a material such as eucalyptus, which retards the growth of young plants.
Many types of mulch pose a fire hazard, especially in areas where wildfires are a major concern. Fire can spread quickly through organic or rubber mulches, moving to nearby structures. River rocks, sand, crushed gravel and similar materials are fireproof. The University of California recommends avoiding organic mulch within five feet of homes in wildfire-prone regions. Replace these materials with pavers, rocks or brick chips.
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