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oki
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Location: Renton, WA

lava rocks and paper..? I don't know what to do with this.

I just moved into a new house and there are some strange things about the garden. There are small, uniformly sized lava rocks filling the entirety of the flower beds that run along both the front and back of the house. There is also black paper just a couple inches under the surface of the lava rocks.

I'm not a very experienced gardener, and I've never had a garden like this. The gardens at the 2 houses I grew up in were just.. dirt. What am I supposed to do with this lava and paper garden? There is pretty much only moss and weeds growing in it at the moment.

Is it okay if I just pull out the paper and leave the lava? I can't imagine planting flowers in nothing but these rocks.

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Kisal
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The lava rock is a decorative mulch. It isn't a look I personally like, but it's popular with people who don't garden. Oftentimes, it's chosen because it's long-lasting and doesn't deteriorate the way organic mulches do.

If you want to grow plants in the beds, I suggest that you remove both the rock and the paper. That will allow you to examine the soil and determine if it needs any amendments, such as compost or other organic material. I wouldn't recommend removing the paper and leaving the rock, because the rock would eventually become embedded in the soil. That would be a problem, I think. JMO. :)
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

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oki
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Thank you, I will lift it all out then. :D (Thought maybe it was some crazy garden-improving technique that kept certain pests out or something, lol.)

There is also a raised flower bed under one window that's filled with large bark/wood chips. Is this also a substitute-for-gardening type of thing? I'm thinking of scooping all of that out as well.

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Kisal
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Yes, it's the same principle. It keeps the beds looking tidy, while requiring little in the way of maintenance. A few weeds may break through the barrier occasionally, but they can be cleared out with little investment of time or labor.

The difference between the bark and the rock is that the bark is organic and will deteriorate over time. With large bark chips, it can take some years, though. I imagine there is some type of weed barrier under the bark, too, such as the paper that is under the rock. In addition to keeping weeds to a minimum, such a barrier would also delay the decomposition of the bark chips.
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

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rainbowgardener
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Who ever laid all that stuff down was an I-hate-to-garden type of gardener. Weed suppression above all else! You can't plant into the rocks or bark, you have to move them out of the way, make a hole through the weed barrier layer and plant into the soil underneath.

But of course once you start making holes into it, you give room for some weeds to get started too. But in the meantime, the weed barrier stuff tends to cut down on air and water circulation and makes it impossible to amend your soil, turn it, or anything else.

Getting rid of all that will be a big job, but if you like to garden, it will be worth it!
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