My wife would love a rock landscape area in our garden, but I’m worried this might attract bugs. Is this true?
Rock landscaping does attract bugs, such as ants, termites, slugs, and snails, but is not so popular with larger creatures like rodents. However, smaller bugs are not all pests and can live relatively unseen in a rocky area of garden as part of the natural backyard habitat.
Let’s look in more detail at the subject of rock landscaping attracting bugs, and discover what types of critters enjoy living in your rock landscaping and why…
Do Rocks Attract Bugs?
Garden rocks can attract bugs, yes. This is because they create a dark, damp space that some types of bugs really like. If you want to use some landscaping rocks in your garden, it’s inevitable that some little critters will see them as a handy new home.
However, you can make your rocks a bit less attractive to these tiny residents by keeping the weeds and moss down. Bugs prefer homes with an easy supply of nutritious plants! Of course, you can use plants in your favor, and grow insect-repelling herbs like basil and lavender near your rocks.
Of course, rocks also have plenty of benefits. They help with drainage, they cut down on weeds, they’re a low maintenance option, and as we’ll see later, they can be a deterrent against other garden pests. As with many garden landscape decisions, it’s a case of weighing up the positive and negative points.
Do Rocks Attract Ants?
We’re sorry to say this, but ants love your landscaping rocks. The heat of the sun on the exposed faces of the rocks gently warms the soil below, creating the perfect nursery for all those thousands of tiny ant eggs.
Clever ants use the solar energy from your rocks to keep their larvae safe underground. In warmer climates, rocks provide welcome shade for the ants, too.
You can end up with anthills popping up around your landscaping rocks. If you don’t like the thought of this additional feature, you can place a layer of membrane beneath the landscaping rocks, preventing ants from tunneling towards the surface. A fabric liner can also help with the drainage and prevent weeds, so it’s a good thing to do even if you don’t get ants in your yard.
Can Bugs Live in Gravel?
Gravel is a great surface to have in your yard. Not only is it easy to lay, relatively inexpensive, and good for drainage, but it also doesn’t attract bugs. We humans may like the effect of gravel in our gardens, but there’s nothing particularly attractive about a gravel surface to bugs.
The main reason for this is that gravel doesn’t mulch or rot down nicely. There’s no easy food or ready-made habitat on a gravel path or bed. Indeed, a layer of gravel around plants can actually deter some critters.
Top tip: top-dressing planters with a layer of gravel helps to keep the slugs and snails away from the plants because of course, they can’t slither on a sharp and bumpy surface.
Does Lava Rock Attract Termites?
Red or black lava rock makes an appealing-looking mulch for your flower beds. It keeps the soil at an evenly warm temperature, because lava rock absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night.
Teamed with a fabric barrier, lava rock helps to suppress weeds. Because it slows down the passage of water from surface to roots, it can also prevent damage from overwatering. But… it can also provide a great home for termites, and nobody wants to play landlord to these destructive little critters.
As we’ve already mentioned with regards to ants, termites are looking for soil that’s the right temperature and moisture level. Rocks help the soil retain moisture, and lava rocks are especially good at keeping the earth nice and warm.
On balance, a lava rock-based mulch may not be the best plan if you’re worried about termites – and definitely don’t place lava rocks close to your home, as you run the risk of a termite infestation. Again, a tough but permeable membrane can be a solution if you really must have lava rocks close to your home.
Do Rocks Attract Rodents & Other Critters?
We’ve learned that ants and termites view rocks as handy homes, but what about larger pests? Rats and other burrowing rodents actually aren’t too keen on gravel or rocks, simply because it makes tunneling trickier for them. Why tunnel through rocks when there’s a nice patch of dirt elsewhere?
Rodents such as mice and rats don’t like having to scramble over rocks, either. There’s little cover and no food (we’re not sure if rats eat ants and termites!), so frankly, it’s not worth the effort. They feel safer sticking to hedges and undergrowth.
If you have a vulnerable point (like a drain cover), you can use rocks strategically to make these potential routes look less desirable to rodents.
Do Rocks Actually Prevent Pests?
If we’re asking a general question about rock landscaping preventing pests, the answer is an unhelpful “well, yes and no”. It depends on which pests you want to deter. If you want to prevent a rodent from burrowing, rocks and gravel can help as they won’t go to the trouble of attempting to dig through a difficult surface.
However, if you’re talking about bugs and specifically ants and termites, rocks help to create a rich, warm soil that’s perfect for tunnels and nurseries. If you want to prevent this type of pest, rocks aren’t always the best move.
There’s one other big pest that gravel and rocks can prevent: human invaders. Ever tried to creep along gravel? A noisy gravel pathway is off-putting to potential thieves, as is the thought of having to scramble over uneven rock gardens to get close to the building, in the dark…
So, if rocks aren’t the solution to keeping bugs out of your yard, what can you do? Here are a few things you can try to prevent pests from taking up residence in your yard (and from there, potentially your home):
- Minimize ground-crawling plants (like spreading yew) as these provide useful ground cover and refuge for all manner of pests (including rodents)
- Likewise, plants that spread vertically up your building may also encourage critters. This one is a balance: you may decide a pretty creeper is worth the odd bug wandering in
- Mulch makes a wonderful environment for bugs. Again, it’s about weighing it up, as mulch is very good for your plants. Some mulches are less attractive to bugs than others, so it’s worth doing your research here
- Keep anything involving water clean, as some bugs lay their eggs in water (like mosquitoes). Whether this is hosing down your water butt regularly to prevent larvae developing, or changing the standing water in an ornamental feature, a little housekeeping can really cut down on aquatic nurseries developing
- General housekeeping, in fact, can make a big difference. Keep any trash and recycling areas clean, and always clean the grill and patio after cooking outdoors. Never store anything unless it’s been cleaned (this could be the BBQ, the gazebo or your patio cushions) as crumbs and other debris will attract all sorts of pests
- And back to gravel… Creating a sort of barrier using gravel will help to keep pests away from the patio, flower beds or buildings. Here’s a short film that shows how easy and effective it is to build a landscaped gravel bed around a house. It looks good, it’s low maintenance, and it will help prevent rodents from accessing your foundations
- When you’ve installed your gravel, deter other bugs by planting mint, basil, catmint, and lavender. You’ll attract some lovely critters like bees (and possibly, cats), while deterring unwelcome visitors like ants
While an infestation of ants, termites, or rodents can be a serious issue – not to mention a health hazard in the case of rats – a few colonies of bugs living in your rock landscaping should not usually be a problem.
Such critters are an essential part of the backyard ecosystem, so provided you don’t have biting ants swarming all over your patio as a result of your rock feature – then it should be ok to include such a design feature in your garden.
I think we’re going to go ahead designing ours after doing this research. 🙂