Using Decorative Mulch As a Design Element: Ideas & Photos

While mulch serves a very important function of keeping soil healthy, insulating the ground, and halting the growth of weeds, many homeowners use it for its aesthetic beauty.

In addition to improving your yard’s ecosystem, mulch can be used as a design element. Countless colors, textures, and materials of mulch are popping up all of the time. The options for using them in your hardscape design are endless.

Here are a few ideas about how to use decorative mulch to enhance the beauty of your hardscaping design. And a few tips on how to do it right.


Mulch Color

Each flower, shrub, and tree thrives in certain conditions. It may be tempting to choose the “prettiest” mulch, but soil health is among the top priority when it comes to choosing a type of mulch.


Brown, Black, and Red Mulch

Common wood mulch colors include brown, black, and red. Black and red mulch are often used to make a statement by creating contrast. Colored mulch is best used in areas that are not home to plants as they can sometimes leech chemicals into the soil (unless you find the right ones).



While you can find 100% organic brown mulches that enrich the soil as they break down, it becomes a little more difficult to find organic black or red mulch.



Red and black mulches are often colored with a vegetable-based dye that isn’t harmful to plants. However, manufacturers often use CCA-treated wood that leeches arsenic into the soil which is harmful to you, your children, your pets, and your plants.



If you are dying to use red or black mulch as a design element, make sure that looks don’t kill. Look for a Mulch and Soil Council (MSC) certification logo on each type of mulch you buy to ensure it has been tested for CCA-treated contents.


Colored Mulch

You can find all kinds of crazy colored mulch; some tasteful, some whacky. If you have kids, brightly colored mulch can be used to brighten the parts of your hardscape where you want to add some wonder. As with any mulch, it’s important to ensure the dyes and materials are safe for humans and animals.



Mulch Texture

Aside from the color and material, mulch texture can add a unique look to your hardscaping. Finely cut mulch provides a softer, more manicured appearance. Coarse cut mulch gives a more earthy appearance, often used to juxtapose the softness of certain plants.



Alternative Mulch Materials

Traditional wood mulch is the most common type of mulch. There are, however, alternative types of decorative mulch that homeowners will use when the soil isn’t supporting plant life or doesn’t need additional nutrients.


Glass Mulch

Walking on broken glass may seem counterintuitive, but many homeowners use tumbled glass as a decorative finish to walkways, driveways, gardens, and firepits. Many glass mulches are recycled from glass products we use every day.



Rock Mulch

Like other types of mulch, rock mulch can help drainage issues by allowing water to drain very quickly. It’s practical for beds without plants where a low-maintenance option is desired. Common landscaping rocks include lava rocks, quartz, pea gravel, quartz, and river rocks.