Alternatives to Mulch

NullQwerty

LifeTime Supporter
Apr 23, 2008
340
Hey folks,

Just put in a new stone patio around my pool. Surrounding the patio I will be doing landscaping (small shrubs, some ground cover...). I'm trying to decide what to put down in that area in between the plants.

OPTIONS:
a) Mulch isn't too high on my list because it has to be rejuvinated every couple of years, and it could get messy if tracked in the pools.

b) There is possibly the idea of rubber mulch but I haven't heard much about it and I'm not sure if it looks fake or if it fades with time.

c) There is also pea gravel but it's pretty brown and kind of reminds me of Western US/Texas/Arizona. All that is fine, but I live in the North East (MA) so I think it could look out of place.

d) Grass but that's out because I don't want to mow.

e) White Rocks but they're out because I'm just not a huge fan.

Does anyone have any other ideas? Maybe specific rock types that would looks nice (for a pool in the North East)? Or maybe certain types of ground cover. Or any other Mulch alternatives I hadn't thought of?

NOTE: The areas I'm talking are all about 4 feet wide and can stretch 40 or so feet.

Thanks!
 

J20832

LifeTime Supporter
Jul 3, 2009
218
Olney, MD
I am currently working on putting 3-5 inch river rock down around my pool. The previous owner put down white marble chip, but they move around too much and I am always afraid they will make their way into the pool. Here is a pic of the river rock.

 

bk406

Well-known member
Dec 3, 2009
2,690
Central Massachusetts
I have river stone as well, but it's between my deck and some retaining walls. I dont think it would work too well around plants; i think it is too big and wouldnt look right. There are other types of smaller, colored stone you could try. I've seen some nice planting beds that use redish stone. If you go the rock route, be aware that the stone will reflect a lot of heat onto the plants. That means you will need to water them a bit more frequently or install drip irrigation. The stone looks nice, but moisture conservation is a bit difficult.
 

LauleaHere&There

LifeTime Supporter
Aug 2, 2010
155
Rural Moloka'i, Hawai'i
Believe it or not, river rock can actually help hold moisture in the soil. If you're careful about what you plant, it won't hurt them, especially in the northeast. (in hotter climates, yes, you have to be careful, but even there, it can be done). A nice natural look is to mix the size of stone, like a dry creek bed.


It helps to moderate the temperatures, and you may find that things stay green longer in the fall and green up sooner in the spring. Yes, drip irrigation is a good idea.

There is another option, coco fiber, known as "gorilla hair" that clings or mats together and doesn't blow around or get tracked. It's expensive, though, and while it remains structurally sound for many years, the color can degrade over time. That'll be true for most mulches, anyway. As plantings grow and fill in, you may not find it to be as much of a problem as you think. If you have a local plant nursery, they can give you ideas, too.

LH&T
Larimer County Master Gardener, Class of 1998
 

bk406

Well-known member
Dec 3, 2009
2,690
Central Massachusetts
That "dry river bed" looks nice. Looks like some sort of salvia there? One issue with that look is that it could be a bit out of place in New England. You really dont see a lot of that up here.
 

LauleaHere&There

LifeTime Supporter
Aug 2, 2010
155
Rural Moloka'i, Hawai'i
Fair enough. Maybe a series of flat rocks or moss rock and smaller river stones would look more natural. As I said, once the plants start to fill in, the mulch sort of takes a back seat.

Alternatively, what about an ivy border? If you keep it trimmed up, it could look nice and is mostly evergreen.
 

anonapersona

TFP Expert
LifeTime Supporter
Nov 5, 2008
2,598
Does monkey grass do well there? I am very fond of the dwarf mondo grass but the fine textured common variety is nice as a ground cover as well.
 

bk406

Well-known member
Dec 3, 2009
2,690
Central Massachusetts
LauleaHere&There said:
if you leave openings for a creeping thyme, or other "steppable" ground cover.

)
That looks really nice. I've seen that before. But, it's not that practicle either when/if you have to shovel snow off of it.
 

nick1427d

Active member
May 17, 2011
31
SW IL
has anyone had problems with regular wood mulch finding it's way into their inground pool? I'm currently using small black rock about an inch in diameter and i'm constantly brushing it off the concrete and i find alot of it in my pool, sometimes in my pump basket. My biggest problem is getting anything to grow here in zone 6 with black rock as mulch.
 

acroy

Well-known member
May 11, 2010
186
Dallas TX
For ground cover I like vinca or mulch.
Vinca grows just about anywhere, very tough and fast, will not climb trees and kill shrubs. Available in several different leaf sizes and colorings. I placed 'variagated' vinca under a big oak tree, it lightens up the shaded area quite a bit. I bought several hundred bare-root plants off Eaby, I think it was 300 plants for $80 or so, filling in very nicely! drought tolerant, handles sun and shade and different soil types. Great stuff.

Mulch does need to be refreshed occasionally but it's fairly easy and cheap. I've been using the big pine bark chips. No issues with it getting into the pool, the chips are big enough they don't blow around. It lasts 2-3 years before it needs another coat. Quite effective at moisture retention and weed control.

Rocks have a few disadvantages: heavy, expensive, and they will get buried over time by wind-blown debris, leaves, or just good old mother nature and her earthworms. The p/o of my house had a big piece of the garden filled in with rocks. It's amazing how fast they are getting buried by mother nature.

The 'dry stream' picture above looks nice but will take a lot of maintenance to keep it looking good, unless you live in an area where leaves etc are not a problem. Maybe the desert.
 

rcy

LifeTime Supporter
Apr 25, 2009
345
Burlington, ON, Canada
I used the big pine bark chips in my front yard and agree that they are heavy enough not to blow around and last longer than regular mulch (I'm guessing since they are big and chunky). In my back around the pool I used regular red mulch. I don't find it blows around much, but it will biodegrade within a year and need topping up. I also saw the red 'rubber' mulch at Home Depot, and considered it, but didn't end up trying it.
 

waste

TFP Expert
LifeTime Supporter
Mar 29, 2007
4,160
Coastalish 'down easter'
Null, how about broken up seashells? I remember a bunch of driveways and walkways on Martha's Vineyard that had them and it looks very New England :idea:


I'll leave this be but I just realized how old the original post is :oops:
 

NullQwerty

LifeTime Supporter
Apr 23, 2008
340
Hey waste! Good to see ya.

You're right, it is an old post, but still relevant, so that's good. I've seen the same seashells as you. They are nice! Very cape cod-ish. Doesn't quite work for my pool area, but others reading this should definitely consider it. For me, I think I've decided to just go the normal mulch route. I'm still very curious on the rubber mulch, but I can't find much info on it. Also very curious on the crushed brick Kevin mentioned above.

Thanks
 

LauleaHere&There

LifeTime Supporter
Aug 2, 2010
155
Rural Moloka'i, Hawai'i
acroy said:
For ground cover I like vinca or mulch.
It's nice, but it will not keep grass or weeds from invading. It can also be a leaf catcher. Although, if you have a lot of leaves around your pool, I'll bet you're not so worried about having to rake them out of your vinca as you are scooping them out of your pool.


The 'dry stream' picture above looks nice but will take a lot of maintenance to keep it looking good, unless you live in an area where leaves etc are not a problem. Maybe the desert.
Actually, not so much. A blower took care of mine, and we had a giant cottonwood dropping leaves pretty much all year round. You do have to put some kind of weed barrier underneath a dry stream bed like that. It also helps keep the rocks from disappearing into the soil. Again, though, if you have that many leaves, you're probably more worried about them getting into the pool than between the rocks.

Regarding the rubber mulch, I have been warned off of it for two reasons. As a "recycled" product, it contains chemicals that leach out and kill plants. I've also been told that when it gets hot in the sun, it smells bad. Not what you want for sunbathing around the pool, I imagine.
 

NullQwerty

LifeTime Supporter
Apr 23, 2008
340
Never thought of the smell from rubber mulch in the sun. Yeah, if that's true, totally out. Thanks for the heads up!

Yesterday I noticed some nice landscaping that had mulch and a 1 foot border of small stones. Looked really nice and could help prevent the mulch from getting tracked in the pool.
 

acroy

Well-known member
May 11, 2010
186
Dallas TX
LauleaHere&There said:
acroy said:
For ground cover I like vinca or mulch.
It's nice, but it will not keep grass or weeds from invading. It can also be a leaf catcher. Although, if you have a lot of leaves around your pool, I'll bet you're not so worried about having to rake them out of your vinca as you are scooping them out of your pool.


The 'dry stream' picture above looks nice but will take a lot of maintenance to keep it looking good, unless you live in an area where leaves etc are not a problem. Maybe the desert.
Actually, not so much. A blower took care of mine, and we had a giant cottonwood dropping leaves pretty much all year round. You do have to put some kind of weed barrier underneath a dry stream bed like that. It also helps keep the rocks from disappearing into the soil. Again, though, if you have that many leaves, you're probably more worried about them getting into the pool than between the rocks.
My experience has been different, thick vinca has kept out the weeds etc and leaves have not been an issue - vinca will absorb some and the rest are easy to blow out onto the grass for mulching or raking.

My experience with rocks has been they get covered within a few years and difficult to keep looking good. Putting down a barrier can damage the dirt underneath, will trap dirt/particulates on top, and makes it tough to ever re-landscape. A neighbor went full "Zeriscape" (?) a few years ago with rocks, drip watering, etc. Between the oak tree leaves annd other challanges, I think he spends more time on his 'low maintenance' yard than anyone in the neighborhood with their conventional yard.
 
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