The introduction of rubber mulch to the market has changed the way many people do landscaping and gardening. In the process it has created some polarization between those who think it is a good idea and those who don’t. People who are skeptical about its effects give reasons ranging from lack of organic “aesthetics” (look and feel), to fears about poisoning their plants with unseen chemicals. On the other hand, those who think that rubber mulch has specific benefits for gardening also offer good reasons (chief among them being the reduction of carbon footprint).
Let’s take a closer look at both the benefits and disadvantages of using rubber mulch for your plants.
It provides good insulation from heat. Rubber mulch does a better job of insulating plants from heat compared to wood chips and other organic materials. In “indoor” gardens like sunrooms and solariums, it is especially beneficial because it does not break down and emit a rotting smell.
It won’t attract insects. Unlike soil and wood, rubber isn’t attractive for insects to build nests in or gnaw on. This is particularly true for ants and termites. Some even use rubber mulch as a sort of insulation around their homes to keep insects at bay.
It discourages weed and fungal growth. Because rubber does not absorb water, rubber mulch can actually help prevent fungal growth in plants. The shredded rubber tire “nuggets” are non-porous so water and fertilizer passes through it down to the soil it rests on. Weeds cannot thrive on the rubber and can’t get through the mulch layer down to the soil.
It lasts forever. Well maybe not forever, but since rubber is very slow deteriorate, you can expect to enjoy the landscaping material for many many years without the cost and hassle of topping it up annually.
It stays in Place. Since rubber mulch is heavier than organic mulches (and water) it doesn’t displace easy and won’t float off during heavy rainfall.
It provides more design options. Available in many earth tone and designer colors, rubber mulch offers more options to compliment existing landscape elements. Unlike colored wood mulch, rubber mulch tends to hold its color for up to ten years.
It is a low maintenance option. When compared to organic mulches, the density and durability of rubber mulch translates into less maintenance and replenishment costs saving both time and money.
It provides twice the coverage. While Rubber mulch is initially more expensive it requires only a 1.5 inch depth to effectively control weed growth compared to 3 inches of organic material.
It’s an environmentally friendly option. Rubber landscaping mulch is made from recycled tires. Using this material not only helps to prevent landfilling but also also requires no tree sacrifices.
It does not decompose. Rubber mulch is not organic, so it does not decompose and will not provide the soil with organic material.
It contains chemical residues which can be harmful to plants. Contrary to popular belief both wood mulch and rubber mulch can contain chemicals. Some wood mulches are made with industrial pallets that may have come in contact with various chemicals. Rubber of course utilizes chemicals in the manufacturing process. Studies differ as do mulches themselves. The most common chemical in rubber mulch that is found to potentially affect soil is zinc. Zinc is found naturally in soil and too much or too little can affect soil quality. Some areas of the US have sufficient or even high levels of zinc in the native soil whereas other areas have a zinc deficiency. If you are uncertain you may wish to test your soil for zinc levels before making a decision on what product is the best fit for your landscaping project.
It doesn’t look and feel organic. Despite the many natural colors available some prefer the natural look and feel like real soil, wood, or stone.
The important thing is to do research prior to purchasing. Weighing the pros and cons carefully is key to deciding what’s best for your particular landscaping and garden projects.