Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Landscaping stones, especially gravel, never run out of uses. Aside from being a popular paving and construction material, gravel can be used in landscaping such as in Zen and gravel gardens. Given their ubiquitous functions in yard improvement, can you use gravel as mulch? We did the research for you.
Professional and DIY landscapers can certainly consider gravel as mulch in their gardens for several valuable reasons such as the following:
- soil moisture conservation
- soil erosion prevention
- unwanted weeds management
- ease of application and maintenance
Like us, you surely want to give your garden a finished and fancy look where bare soil or any unevenness is basically covered up. So, here comes mulch as a superior and multifunctional material to do the amazing work. Stick around to know more!
What is Mulch?
Above anything else, you must understand what mulch is and its purposes. Mulch is any thick layer of organic or inorganic garden materials used to primarily give your plants nutrition and a form of protection from environmental hazards. They do not only improve the look of your plants and the landscape in general but also enhance the soil composition.
Gravel as mulch can serve as a barrier against harsh drying winds and the sun's scorching heat. Moreover, it helps keep the soil intact and constantly moist and fertile which as a result promotes healthy biological or organic activity between plants and organisms in the ground.
What are the Types of Mulches?
The two main classifications of mulches are organic and inorganic.
This type of mulch can thwart the growth of unwanted weeds by blocking seed germination stimuli such as sunlight, but most importantly, it improves the soil quality. Some examples of organic mulches for your garden are as follows:
- homemade garden compost
- well-rotted horse manure
- leaf mold
- composted bark
- wood chips
- mushroom compost
- grass clippings
- hay and straw
Similar to organic mulches, inorganic ones hinder weed growth and conserve soil moisture by slowing down evaporation. It helps stop soil erosion while preventing rainwater runoff. This type of mulch includes:
- small stones
- black plastic (aka plastic sheeting)
- landscape fabric (aka geotextiles)
- rubber mulch
- crushed brick
Gravel comes in different forms and colors. They can be crushed stones, pea gravel, crushed granite, and river stones among others. They can be gray, white, brown, red or black.
How to Use Gravel As Mulch
Mulching with gravel is relatively easy with your creative planning, and it does not need heavy equipment or extra manpower. Prepare the tools and materials indicated below so you can begin mulching with six easy steps!
- porous landscape fabric
- U-shaped garden staple
Similar to the process of paving, digging the soil to start mulching is one important step. Clear out the area then dig out the ground for 1 to 2 inches to make room for the gravel mulch. The area should be lower than the surrounding landscape. Smooth the excavated area using a rake.
Roll out a nonwoven piece of landscape fabric onto the area. The fabric must be arranged with at least 3-inch overlapping edges. This will keep the gravel mulch from sinking into the soil during the wet seasons, and it will also hinder the growth of weeds in your landscape. Remember that weeds deprive other plants of moisture and nutrients.
If there are already existing shrubs or perennials plants in the bed, you'll be needing to cut slits in the fabric. If you plan to mulch around a tree, you'll have to cut a hole in the fabric. Afterward, slide it around the tree hunk.
Secure the fabric on the ground by pushing U-shaped garden staples on its corners. Use also the staple on the overlapping edges of the fabric to sit them nicely into the ground.
Fill in the area with gravel at 1 to 2-inch thickness, making sure that the entire fabric is adequately covered. Smooth out the area using a rake.
For a finished look, remove the leaf and plant debris from the mulched area using a leaf blower.
Is Gravel Good for Soil?
Gravel and other similar stones are practically reliable materials in lieu of organic mulches. Their use can have both good and bad impacts on soil and plants.
Advantages of Using Gravel as Mulch
- Using gravel is cost efficient. Gravel need not be replaced frequently because they are naturally long-lasting materials under any extreme weather conditions.
- It is fireproof. If you live in wildfire-prone areas, you will never worry about your mulch catching fire. In fact, it can also stop the fire from ravaging your plants.
- It is wind-resistant. You don't want to see your mulch, much less the soil underneath, getting blown away and scattered by the strong wind. Gravel is heavy materials for its small sizes, so it stays in place and prevents soil erosion.
- It brightens dark areas in the garden. With ordinary gravel or pea gravel, you can add color and lighter shade in your landscape most especially when these stones reflect sunlight.
Disadvantages of Using Gravel as Mulch
- Gravel can be extremely hot for plants during summer. When gravel heats up, it can parch plants that are not drought-resistant.
- It is not ideal in urban settings. Gravel tends to absorb and retain much heat from the sun especially during summer.
- It does not significantly promote organic activity. Compared to organic mulch, gravel does not decompose over time; therefore, it does not contribute much in the biological activity in soil that provides nutrients for the plants.
Overall, gravel is good for the soil in terms of evaporation, weeds, and erosion control. However, it is not helpful as mulch when used around heat-tender perennials or plants that do not thrive in a hot environment such as hyacinths and coral bells.
When to use stones or mulch in your landscape
Now that you know the pros and cons of using gravel as mulch, you need to understand then when to use organic and inorganic mulches. Before buying either mulch or stones for your garden, you should consider elements such as, but not limited to maintenance cost, soil fertility, aesthetics, and weather!
If you intend to improve soil fertility besides garden beautification, organic mulch is ideal. In cold places, mulches such as bark and wood chips can provide thermal protection for plant roots. The downside, however, of using this soil blanket is that it decomposes over time, requiring you to replace them more often.
While both stones and organic mulch can improve the appeal of your landscape because of their stark colors that contrast plants, stones remain to be a more excellent option for their long-lasting and varied colors. Organic mulch tends to grow darker and more unattractive as it crumbles.
With gravel's durability, for instance, the cost of maintenance is much lower. Landscapers, however, should churn and wash rocks and stones once in a while as soil and dust can accumulate through their gaps. When soil builds up in your mulched area, weeds can start to bloom.
Soil erosion and weed growth can be the two of the most annoying gardening woes for landscapers, but with the help of organic or inorganic mulches, these problems can be efficiently prevented while giving your garden a polished and attractive look. Lastly, remember that mulching is not only for gardening. It can also add flair to your patio and driveways!
Did you find this article helpful? Why not check out these other helpful posts from us?