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Mulch, Pine Straw Or Decorative Stones

Mulch, pine straw, or decorative stones provide a finished look for your landscape project. Each of these materials result in a different look. Maybe you have new trees, shrubs, flowers, or a hard-scape feature all installed. Now it is time for the final step in your landscape project. It is important to know the difference between the three different materials.

Light Color Mulch

Wood Mulch

One of the most popular finishing products is Wood Mulch. There are several different varieties out on the market. The organic type is good to use. When meeting with his clients, Herbee always talks about the advantages and disadvantages of this material. This material can either represent a formal or informal look.

Double Ground Hardwood

One of the first steps for you to think about is: What grade of ground mulch do you prefer? There are three different phases to grinding this material. Once, twice, or three times grinding through a machine. The more times the batch of wood is grounded, the finer it will become.

Hardwood is very common. The bark of the tree is the best part to use. Herbee recommends the bark or wood be ground at least twice. The cost for you may be a little bit more, but worth the few extra dollars.

There have been concerns about termites in wood products. The product that has been through the grinding process is safe to use in and around your foundation. If the material hasn't been well ground, there will be larger pieces of wood and a chance of infestation of termites and other insects. Always check with your suppler on the specifications they use when grinding the hardwood or bark.

Black Dye Mulch

Another item to consider is the color. Usually, you can get hard wood material in a light brown or dark brown color. You can also get dyed mulch, the most popular color being black. The dye often has a preservative, so the mulch lasts longer. The dye doesn't fade as much as non-dyed product.

There are several downsides. Dyed material costs more. The extra cost can be offset by less frequent replacement, extending to a year or more. Some processors use a dye that can be toxic to the environment, including plants.

Dark Color Mulch

Red Dye

First word of caution with red dye mulch: if it's dumped on your driveway before spreading, it can leave a stain, especially if it's wet. That's true of any dye colored mulch.

Red dye is a bold color. Some people like the look of plant greenery against it. It can also clash with some flowers and shrubs. Even worse, it may not go well with the brick, siding or shutters on the exterior of your home. So be careful when choosing a color.

Cedar is a good choice for mulch and has a light color in its natural state. It's not unusual for a red dye to be added. An advantage is the pleasant cedar smell that insects don't like. So, it actually helps with insect control. This material is measured by cubic foot or cubic yard.

Playground mulch is the one of the best to use, but it is somewhat more expensive to purchase. The playground material is finely shredded good quality bark. Many child care centers and schools are using this particular type.

Pine nuggets are popular and will last longer. Over time this material may loose its color. You will need to refresh the landscape area either every six months, or once a year.

Redish Cedar Mulch
Pine Straw

Pine Straw

Pine Straw represents a natural feeling of being out in nature. The Pine straw comes in bales. Usually one bale will cover forty to sixty feet, one to two inches thick. Pine straw is easier to install than wood mulch. It will also tend to loose its color after a period of time.

The pine will turn a shade of gray and you will have to refresh the area the same as mulch, every six months or annually. Pine straw does have some acidic levels and is great for certain types of plants that thrive in an acid base environment. A tip from Herbee: Azaleas in the south love the pine straw!

If you have pine trees around, let the needles from the tree collect on the ground and use it in your landscaped area. Prices range depending on your geographic location. Your cost will usually run anywhere from two to four dollars per bale. You have a big advantage if you live on a farm with pine trees, as the needles will naturally fall onto the ground.

Pine is safe around foundations, children or animals. One word of caution, every once in awhile you may find a a vine with thorns in a bale. Herbee recommends wearing gloves to spread pine straw.

Did you know that birds and other small creatures will use the pine needles to make part of their nests? If you are planning a relaxed landscape project, and want to feel as if you are walking through the woods, pine straw may be the answer.

Questions From Our Readers

Q: My outdoor cats (2) are using my mulch beds as their litter box. It is especially disturbing after the rain because it smells so bad. It's right next to an entrance to our home. How can I change this habit without the use of toxins?

A: Herbee here. Thanks for your question.

This is a problem some homeowners run into and there isn't a real easy solution. There are two issues you will have to deal with. One is the soaked mulch. I would recommend it out and putting in a 3/4 inch decorative stone. This will defer the cats from using the beds as a litter box.

The other issue you have is the urine most likely has soaked into the soil, too. Even by removing the mulch, you still may have the urine smell. I am not sure how old your beds are? If they are fairly new, I would recommend pulling the mulch working the beds over and replanting. I know this is a lot of work, but will most likely solve the problem.

If your beds are established, still consider using the stone and see what happens. Once the stone is down, put a little mulch in an area of your yard where you won't mind them using as a litter box. I hope this helps and the best of luck to you. If you need more information or have more details, let me know.

Decorative Stone

A third alternative in finishing your landscape project is Decorative Stone. The stones are usually cut to one, two, or three inches in diameter.

Decorative Stones

There are several different colors to choose from. Decorative stone creates a look of formality in garden areas. The rocks will last longer than pine straw and mulch, a lot longer! You can purchase stone in bags at a local store, nursery, or garden center.

Some nurseries and garden centers will carry the decorative stone in bulk. Depending on the size of your project, they will deliver the stone, usually starting with a half ton. Delivery fees can run twenty to forty dollars. Pick up trucks are great for getting the rocks to your home, but also a lot more work for you.

Always remember to do the P-P-P method, and understand the importance of the planning phase. If you have a sunny location, be careful about putting stark white stone in a bed, as the sun reflects off the white color. In partial shade or full shade, the white rock creates a very clean and crisp look.

An idea for you to think about is using the stone in certain beds, and use the other two finishers in different beds. Consider the stone around a few trees or any outdoor feature such as a bird feeder, sun dial, container gardens or decorating around a pond or pool area. You also can purchase pebbles. These flat stones are smaller in size and great for walkways.


Whether you are planning a full scale landscape project incorporating a few new beds, or tired of what is presently there, consider the above possibilities.

These three materials can improve the appearance of your home. Remember to include this step in your planning phase. I hope this article has helped you in the decision making process of applying the final touch of your outdoor venture.

Other Articles You Might Be Interested In.

Plan, Prep, Plant, (P-P-P-Method) --- Other Landscape Projects Other Than Mulch



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