What to Use Instead of Mulch for Landscaping

colorful decorative gravel used in flooring for use sidewalk to decorate the garden

It’s hard to overstate the benefits of mulch.

It reduces deep-rooted weeds, prevents soil erosion and helps retain moisture, and just looks good in your garden or around plant beds. Selective varieties of mulch, such as root / bark mulch, will even enrich the soil as they degrade.

At the same time, we recognize that mulch isn’t for everyone. It costs money and has to be refreshed or replaced periodically to remain attractive as it deteriorates.

If you’re looking for ways to update your landscaping without using mulch, don’t worry. You have several options:

1. Stone

The huge selection of decorative gravel is often overlooked but brings a number of key benefits.

If you have a fountain or a rock garden, sand and gravel make outstanding bases. They’re pleasing to look at – decorative gravel especially – and don’t require as much upkeep as mulch.

Gravel or stone come in many colors and sizes; so you can select an option that accents the color scheme of your outdoor environment. Blending natural stone in multiple sizes can give your lawn a casual aesthetic while requiring far less maintenance.

Decorative stone may be as small as a pea (3/8”) or as large as a grapefruit (3-5”).  Larger sizes will move less in heavy rain but can damage small plants by cutting off sun to the roots. You will also need a lot more large stone as it has significantly less coverage than small sizes.  The smaller sizes are easier to handle but heavy rains can create drainage paths through the surface.  Lots to think about when planning your stone selection.

2. Sand

Sand is an excellent choice for a Japaneses or Zen meditation garden.  The smooth surface provides a peaceful setting for accent boulders or manicured plants.  But sand does require maintenance – weeding and cleaning.

3. Rubber mulch

Chances are you’ve come across this mulch alternative on a playground or soccer field. It can be more expensive than natural mulch but lasts much longer and repels pests. However, this mulch is not recommended for people with backyard ponds or lives in areas that are prone to wildfires.

Rubber mulch also never degrades as it is made from recycled tires.  This is both good and bad news. You never have to replace it; but you can’t get rid of it.

4. Leaves and grass clippings

This is a mulch alternative you might be able to make at home. Many lawnmowers have a mulching setting that allows you to shred your lawn clippings into fine pieces that return to the yard and add nutrients to the soil.

You can use grass clippings to mulch your garden beds as well, but it will take some extra work. You can’t just dump cut grass onto your flower beds. You need to let it dry, otherwise it will start to rot, which can damage your plants.

In addition to using grass as a form of mulch, you can do the same thing with fallen leaves in your yard. Leave them in the grass or collect them inside the mower and bag them up for later use.

Just be sure to collect leaves rather than letting them sit on your lawn throughout the fall and winter, as this can impede new grass growth in warmer weather.

Are you looking for a mulch alternative for your backyard? Visit Woodward Landscape Supply, where we carry a wide array of sand, decorative gravel and construction stone – in addition to an excellent selection of mulches – designed to fit virtually any landscaping application. Our experts will be happy to work with you to help you find the right material for your yard.


5 thoughts on “What to Use Instead of Mulch for Landscaping

  1. Sarah Packer

    My husband is letting me dig a garden, so I wanted tips on decorating and landscaping it! I didn’t know sand was a great choice material, but it needs weeding and cleaning as maintenance. I wouldn’t mind adding that to the maintenance we do in our yard already, so I’ll have to look more into sand and how it could benefit my garden, thanks to this post!

  2. Jesse Ford

    I really like what you said about the different types of gravel and how they come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. My wife and I are thinking about changing the way our garden looks because it looks bland and dull. I’m going to pass this information along to my wife so she can see the benefits of diversifying landscape supplies.

  3. Oscar Morrison

    It’s nice to remember that using decorative gravel still gives us a fair selection of colors and designs. We’re thinking of turning part of our lawn into a flower box. Putting rocks in could make it easier to maintain and still look nice.

  4. Chris Pederson

    Thanks for the tip to choose gravel and stone that accent your outdoor environment’s color scheme. I don’t have time to go to the store and buy that stuff on my own. I’ll find a service where I can point it out and they’ll deliver it to me.

  5. Corten

    That’s way awesome that if you want a natural fertilizer you pretty much already have it in grass clippings. My yard is really big and I haven’t been taking care of it very well because it’s a pain to mow by hand. I’ll have to get a ride on the mower and keep the grass clippings on the lawn.


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