What kind of landscaping mulch material to use in your planting beds is always a question. There are basically two categories, a “permanent type” like decorative stone or an “organic choice” like a shredded bark mulch. Here are some criteria to look at when making the choice.
What does the design call for is the most important. The choice can be the difference between night and day in the final look of the landscape. If there is already a lot of hard surface and texture on and around the home, like a concrete driveway, and brick or stone on the facade of the house, the choice of a stone mulch might make the planting too harsh looking. On the other hand if there is no brick or stone then using it as mulch might be a good choice.
A combination of bark and stone beds is very attractive, if incorporated artfully in a design. This often creates a happy median for the homeowner. It allows annuals to be added in the bark beds while having the stone beds that don’t have to be top-dressed like bark.
Stone beds require: edging installed, weed barrier installed, and a lot more work to put it in place. They are less friendly to plant material, especially small plants and perennials. The cost is a great deal more than bark. The advantage is that once it is installed it lasts for years before it will need to be replaced. However when this time comes it is much more effort and expense to remove and replace.
Bark mulch is more “plant friendly” and is about half the cost of stone. It can be installed with a spaded edge or with permanent edging in the beds. Because it is lighter than stone it requires less effort to install. It does deteriorate and will need to be replenished every year or every other year. However it will only require about ½ the initial amount of bark or even less as the plants take up more room in the beds. As it deteriorates it provides good organic matter to the plants. It is not suggested to use a weed barrier under the bark for this reason. The cleanup of leaves and debris from pruning is easier with bark than stone because it isn’t as necessary to remove small debris because of its organic nature.
So, if you are looking for less upkeep with the landscape beds the stone is the best choice. But if you are looking for a little more friendly solution for the plants and less of an initial cost easier installation, bark might be your choice.