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The Daring Choices - Mulch, Rocks, Or Pinestraw
By Amanda Whatley Owen
web posted January 29, 2018

GARDENING When I was working at The Home Depot one of the more frequent questions I was asked was, "Should I use pine straw, mulch, or rocks in my flower beds?"  Then the customer would ask me to explain the difference between the mulches, and the rocks, and finally, how much was needed for their project.  As far as what to choose, it all boils down to your personal preference.  Mostly, you're going to be happier with what you think looks nice.
There are advantages and disadvantages to some of these choices, of course, but here's a general guide that may help avoid spending more than you anticipated.
Pine straw is a favorite among most homeowners and gardeners, because it is cheap, easy to put out, covers well, and you can even rake it up yourself in the woods.  If yours is an area with drainage issues, normally the straw will not wash away, if the issue is not too bad.  On the downside, pine straw can attract bugs, and does not maintain that pretty golden color long.  Typically, after several weeks the straw starts to flatten and become gray, and starts to expose weeds.  So, while cheap, it is high maintenance to keep that fresh appearance. 

Mulch is another popular choice.  There are normally, three different colors in mulch, black, red, and brown/natural.  Color, of course is all about preference.  Personally, I prefer black mulch because it always makes the plants pop, especially with spring and summer colors.  Around the Southeast we typically have pine mulch , cedar, or cypress mulch.  Of these choices, I like the cypress mulch due to less critters visiting your garden and making their way into your home.  The colored mulches will usually be cypress.  There are other less-popular, and costly mulches such as crushed pecan shells, and eucalyptus mulch.  Though hard to find, they are not impossible to get.
Lastly, are the variety of rocks.  There are lava rocks, marble rocks, river stones, and more.  With many options for color and size, again it would fall back to your preference.  Rocks are, of course, heavier and this deters some folks.  Despite being more expensive, you do not have to replace them each season. Normally, just a slight refresher every couple years.  The rocks also help with drainage issues.  They normally come in several different colors like natural, white and red. 

So, how do you measure how much you need?  First, measure the area(s) and get the total amount of square feet that you wish to cover.
There are numerous landscape calculators online, but generally, the bags in the home improvement stores have charts on the back to tell you how many bags are required for so many square feet.  Most go at least 3" deep to ensure moisture lock to the plants and no weeds sprouting up.
I would always tell customers that if you want to have your mulch or rocks thick, then the size of the bag would cover an area the size of the bag. If you want it thinner, then one bag can cover an area the size of two bags laying next to each other.  With pine straw, normally one bale can lightly do a 10 x 10 area. 
Next week in Mandy's Friendly Garden, we are going to be planting some seeds!

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