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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

Mulch vs pea gravel: which is better?

Updated: Mar 7

Image: B&Q

Stone vs mulch in landscaping: the pros and cons (& a bunch of inspiration too)

When it comes to landscaping your outdoor spaces, selecting the best ground cover is a crucial decision that can impact both the aesthetic appeal and functionality of your garden - not to mention the effect on your bank balance... gardening is expensive!

bark chippings

I've been deep down a Pinterest rabbit hole for weeks researching ways to revamp and improve my front garden on a budget with affordable and achievable techniques and one of the big questions that I've been weighing up is mulch vs pea gravel.

Spoiler alert: I'm probably going to incorporate both but in different areas and for different reasons so thought it might be useful to share some of my research findings, decision process and inspiration. 

What is mulch?

Mulch comes in various forms, including wood chips, rubber mulch, bark mulch, and organic mulches such as grass clippings and pine needles. Its primary function is to provide a protective layer over the soil surface, offering numerous benefits for your garden beds and outdoor spaces. In the UK one of the most popular mulches is bark chippings or chipped bark and this is the main one I've been considering for my DIY garden project. 

What is pea gravel?

Pea gravel, consisting of small stones approximately the size of a pea, offers different qualities suitable for various landscaping projects. Pea gravel comes in various colours and can be purchased in bags of varying sizes, from tiny ones at the garden centre for a single pot right up to giant bulk bags that get delivered via a lorry with a grab arm and crane mechanism for large landscaping projects. 

Mulch & pea gravel inspiration

Before we get into the pros and cons, here are some ideas that I felt inspired by for both mulch and pea gravel...

  • Highly landscaped garden with gravel paths

  • Round gravel path around a water feature

  • Gravel patio area

  • Winding, sloped gravel path with wood sleeper steps

  • Coastal-style white gravel path with wooden stepping stones

  • Bark-filled flower beds

  • Woodland-style bark-covered pathways with rocky stepping stones

  • Bark-covered pathways

  • Winding bark-covered pathway with patio area also covered in bark

Mulch and pea gravel are two popular choices, each offering unique benefits and considerations. 

Benefits of mulch

  • One significant advantage of mulch is its ability to suppress weed growth by blocking sunlight and preventing weed seeds from germinating. 

  • This natural weed barrier reduces the need for herbicides and manual weeding, promoting healthier garden plants and flower beds.

  • Mulch helps retain soil moisture, reducing the frequency of irrigation and providing a stable environment for garden plants, especially during hot summers or periods of drought. The organic material in mulch gradually decomposes over time, enriching the soil with essential nutrients and improving its overall health.

  • Mulch also contributes to soil erosion control by reducing water runoff and protecting the soil surface from heavy rains and erosion during cold winters. Its natural appearance blends seamlessly with garden pathways and walkways, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal of your outdoor space.

Benefits of pea gravel

  • One of the primary advantages of pea gravel is its durability and low maintenance requirements.

  • Unlike organic mulches that may decompose over time, pea gravel maintains its appearance and functionality for years with minimal upkeep.

  • Pea gravel offers versatility in landscape design, with a variety of colours and textures available to complement different architectural styles and outdoor themes.

Downsides of mulch

  • Not great for promoting drainage

  • Doesn't last as long as gravel as will rot down

  • Not as resilient as stones - can blow around or be displaced by animals

Downsides of pea gravel

See below for the drawbacks of pea gravel...

  • Rough to walk on without shoes

  • More costly than mulch

  • Can retain heat in the sun

  • Needs proper edging to contain it

My plan is to create a gravel garden path and use chipped bark on all the flowerbeds with membrane to prevent weeds.

Mulch vs pea gravel: how to choose

When deciding between mulch and pea gravel for your outdoor space, several factors should influence your decision.


  • your budget

  • the specific needs of your garden, flower beds, and play areas 

  • your desired aesthetic  

  • your maintenance capabilities and available time.

If you prioritize weed control, soil health, and a natural appearance, mulch may be the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you require excellent drainage, durability, and low maintenance, pea gravel could be the ideal option for your outdoor space.

By weighing the above pros and cons of each option and considering factors such as soil temperature, maintenance needs, and aesthetic appeal, you can make an informed decision that enhances the beauty and functionality of your outdoor space.

Recommendations for mulch & pea gravel

Whichever you decide to plump for, consider these top tips that will result in fewer weeds, lower maintenance, high functionality and natural beauty.

  • Take care to prepare the ground before adding your mulch or gravel

  • Lay a weed-proof membrane underneath to reduce the chance of weeds peeping through & causing extra work (& stress!)

  • Measure the space you intend to fill and accurately calculate the volume required, then add a tolerance of around 10% so you don't run out. 

  • Keep an eye out for offers and discounts at local garden centres and builders' merchants. 

  • Monitor online DIY stores and garden centres and make the most of any offers they have if buying in bulk. 

Where next?

Here are some other garden-related posts...

Paths & Patios

Rockery & driveway


I hope you've found some of these ideas inspiring and useful, let me know in the comments if you try any of them. Be sure to scroll to the very bottom of the page & hit the subscribe button to receive my monthly newsletter which is packed full of tutorials, updates and offers.