Mulch, Soil, & Sand: What’s The Difference?

You may be wondering, “What are bulk gardening products? And why do I need them?” We sell a number of bulk products for your garden and landscape, but it can be confusing to know what they are and which one is the right fit for your needs. So we break it down to explain what the goals and benefits are for each product.

First, there are three master categories of bulk garden products:

The 3 master categories of bulk garden products:

  1. Mulch
  2. Soil
  3. Sand

We understand that it can be difficult to determine what their differences are and why you may choose one over another. Below is our go-to guide for you to better understand the functions of mulch, soil, and sand, as well as their pros and cons. 

What’s Mulch?

Mulch is a general term that means a layer of any material that is intended to cover the soil, typically around desirable plants but also over unwanted plants to help remove them. 

Mulches are available as organic or inorganic options. Be sure to account for the following factors when selecting which type of mulch you would like to use.

Organic mulches 

Includes organic matter which breaks down over time and assists in improving soil structure, increases fertility in edible plants, increases moisture retention, and reduce weeds. They do require refreshing as material breaks down.

Inorganic mulches 

This category includes rock, weed barrier fabric, rubber mats or chat.  These require less maintenance overall but can be detrimental to the soil and plants in or near them as they don’t allow for air exchange and can increase the heat index of an area.  

The 3 Types of Mulch:

  • Compost
  • Bark 
  • Rock 


Compost is any decaying organic matter, such as manure, leaves, food waste, or grass clippings. This organic matter is used to fertilize or condition soil, typically applied in a thin layer on top of the soil or tilled into the top few inches. 

  • Compost Pros
    • Offers immediate nutrient availability
    • Increases the percentage of organic matter in the soil
    • Buffers the pH
    • Improves drainage in heavy soils
    • Improves moisture retention in sandy soils
  • Compost Cons
    • Because it decays over time, it will need to be replenished on occasion
    • Depending on the product used, the high nitrogen levels can burn plants, especially in high summer temperatures.


Bark is a type of organic mulch that does not offer nutritional benefits.

  • Bark Pros
    • Available in a wide variety of textures (fine, shredded, chipped, nugget)
    • Comes in different colors (natural/undyed, brown, black, red)
    • Available with or without preservatives (most are without)
    • Shades the soil, which increases moisture retention
    • Simplifies weed control by reducing germination rates, making the weeds easier to pull


  • Bark Cons
    • Bark mulches are not usually used as an amendment, meaning they cannot be mixed into native soils because the pieces don’t decompose very quickly
    • They can fade in direct sunlight, so they need to be refreshed to maintain their appearance
    • Sometimes they can be blown out of beds in strong winds


Rock mulches are small, roundish or angled pieces of rock that are spread in layers over weed barrier fabric or native soils. They can be used in a number of ways, such as dry riverbeds or around ponds and water features. 

  • Rock Pros
    • Very low maintenance once installed
    • Doesn’t need to be replaced regularly like organic mulches
    • Looks clean and organized for many years
    • Comes in a wide range of colors, sizes, and textures to meet your needs
  • Rock Cons
    • Expensive
    • Heavy
    • They don’t prevent weeds (which grow up from the soil below or germinate between the rocks)
    • Not an easy surface to walk on since they roll back and forth (not a great choice for pathways!)
    • Rock mulches act as a heat sink, meaning they absorb and radiate heat (which bakes and kills the soil biome)
    • Severely reduces moisture retention
    • Increases water needs of trees and plants
    • Can damage or burn nearby delicate foliage
    • Dramatically increases ambient temperatures in your yard 

What is Soil?Garden Soil

Soil is made of both mineral and organic components. Soil textures and structures vary widely. Some are amended and some are not, some are sifted, some are not. Soils are used to build new beds, fill raised boxes, and amend existing native soils.

  • Soil Pros: 
    • Readily available and are mixed or amended for different purposes
    • If you are filling holes, you don’t necessarily need an amended product
    • If you are laying sod, growing trees/shrubs/flowers/edibles, you may want a soil that has had compost or other organic matter added to it beforehand so it is ready to use
  • Soil Cons
    • Top soil is unpredictable because it is harvested from different places
    • Variable Sand & Clay Levels 
      • One load of soil can have a lot of clay, where another load can have a lot of sand
      • Unless it’s an amended product that is mixed according to a recipe, it’s hard to know what you’re getting

What is Sand?Sand

Hard pack sand is typically used as a leveler that is compacted before laying pavers or flagstone, but it can also be used as a material for pathways. Play sand is used for recreational areas like sandboxes, playgrounds, volleyball courts, and around fire pits.

  • Sand Pros
    • Readily available
    • Has a wide range of uses
  • Sand Cons
    • Sometimes sand doesn’t stay within the areas where it’s laid
      • You might need edging or a sealer that glues the particles together
        • Even then, you will have a little bit of spillover into neighboring areas
    • Play sand can be used as a litter box by neighborhood cats

Now that you know the difference between the bulk garden products you can make an educated decision about which products are needed for your yard. Once you’ve decided the direction you want to go for your landscape, or what you might need to refresh the look or improve the soil structure, we have got it here for you by the truckload – literally!garden truck

You can bring your truck over and we’ll load you up, or if you need quite a bit of product, we can deliver it right to your home! Bulk product delivery is only available to certain cities, and same-day delivery is available when your order is confirmed before 12pm. Read more and request a bulk delivery for your garden needs here.

Happy Gardening!

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