Landscape Rock vs. Mulch in Plant Beds
Remember when I said I thought I could easily dig out the roots out from the old boxwood shrubs out front? (No? Read about it here.) I forgot to mention all the landscaping beds around the house and trees are covered with 3-inch landscaping rock. I know many homeowners like landscape rock, but I prefer to use mulch, so this was a set-back. Before we get to the boxwoods, let me try to talk you into using mulch....
I love cedar mulch because it keeps its color, smells good, keeps insects away, keeps weeds away, and it’s good for the plants. I love the look of mulch and it makes transplanting or planting much easier. Honestly, when planting over rocks it can take forever just to clear the rocks out of the way for the hole. Plus, I’m convinced that plants just grow way better with mulch compared to being covered in rocks. Water is maintained more in the summer, and it keeps plants warmer in the winter.
I usually watch my local garden stores for it to go on sale and buy it under $3 a bag. I’ve found this works better, saves money, and doesn’t make the wife as mad as working to get a big haul dumped on your driveway. Plus I can fit 30 bags in my SUV (assuming I don't also have kids in tow.)
I usually try to put down at least 4 inches deep of mulch the first time I fill a bed. After that, you do need to keep refilling spots as the old mulch composts into the ground. Pour the bag out and either use your hands or a rake to spread it out. (Kiersten recommends wearing gloves but she doesn't do the bulk of the labor...)
Before I landed on cedar, I tried all the other kinds of mulch. The color-dyed mulch loses its color and has a white mold that forms below it. If you look at someone’s colored mulch plant bed at the end of the season, it will have faded. If you want to refill spots, when you buy more you will end up having two different colors of mulch in your plant beds. I’ve also heard that the cheap colored mulch comes from grinded up wooden crates. (Don’t quote me on that, but that’s what I’ve heard.)
Cedar mulch can be more expensive, but just keep an eye out and you can usually find some retailer selling it for a fair price.
Back to the rocks.
Rocks have zero maintenance which has huge appeal for lots of people, but how good for a plant can rocks be? I just can’t find any benefit that rocks can have for your trees and plants. Plus, it has to bring the temperature up in your beds during the summer. Think about all the fertilizers and plant food you buy for your plants. Do you really think it’s good to surround them with rocks? Having worked for a landscaping company I can also tell you with rocks even after you lay the black carpet all over the ground you still get weeds.
Here’s the good news, if you have rock and you want to get rid of it, I found there are a lot of takers. My father-in-law has landscaping beds with rock and they welcomed taking all the rock we’d give them. (He prefers rock for the low maintenance.) I have 6 five-gallon buckets and started filling them up. He only lives a couple miles away so the drive wasn’t long, but it took FOREVER and I had to stop because my arms were shaking. Instead of completing the job all at once, I would simply fill up the six buckets when I had time and do it again later. I thought simply removing the rocks from my front bed would be couple hour job. Nope.
You ready to join team mulch? Good.
Back to the boxwoods.
After I cleared the rocks out from the front of the house, I was ready to dig up the boxwood roots so that I could have the front yard ready to plant come spring. I started digging and I couldn’t budge those roots at all. I tried convincing some of my friends that had trucks that we could simply hook it to the back and yank those babies out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t rip of the hitch, and I didn’t want to have to buy them a new truck. I started to dig with my shovel and spade. I was simply digging up little bits of dirt until I hit a big root.
I snapped one shovel and my hands began to form blisters in my palms. This wasn’t going to work. I remembered years ago when I took down a tree with my neighbor. The tree’s roots were completely wrapped in a wire ball that it was planted in. He got out his Sawzall and cut right through the wire and then was able to get into the tree roots and buzzed them off. My wife bought me a Sawzall years ago when we took down our old deck. I used it to cut off the wood that was in the ground to make way for a brick patio. I found my Sawzall and went to shop for new blades. After working with my chainsaw, I am convinced that sharp new blades are a must. I was even more excited when I found tree pruning blades.
I put my new tree blades in my Sawzall and started cutting right through the roots and circled around the dirt. It cut right through the wood. As I cut around the giant root ball, I could feel it loosen and was able to dig a little deeper. Once I cut the around the outside of the boxwood root, they pulled out pretty easy. Sawzall to the rescue. I was left with a nice plant bed, ready for plants. I still think a truck would have ripped those seven box woods right up.
Need a Fix Up? Here's what we used:
Diablo Pruning Reciprocating Saw Blade (affiliate)
Level Head Rake - works best for spreading mulch (affiliate)
Bamboo Working Gloves - Kiersten likes this kind of all-purpose glove (affiliate)
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