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Rubber Mulch vs. Wood Chips

 

The debate on whether rubber mulch or wood chips make the best mulching material for gardens and other landscaping projects around your home has been a constant one. Both have benefits and limitations, but ultimately, you will need to be informed on important issues and make comparisons before deciding which one best suits your needs.


Below, we weigh the qualities of both rubber mulch and wood chips against what they can contribute to your garden and landscaping.



Weed and mold control


Before they even get  the chance to germinate, rubber mulch can help dehydrate nuisance seeds and protect the plants in your garden. Because wood chips rot, they create a more favorable environment for weeds to thrive.


As for mold prevention, rubber mulch is a better choice since water simply passes through the rubber layer directly into the soil. Wood chips absorb water and eventually breakdown because of retained moisture. This can encourage the growth and spreading of mold and fungus.



Soil enrichment


For all intents and purposes, rubber mulch merely provides a layer or cover for your garden and does not enrich it with nutrients because of its synthetic composition. Since it is a non absorbent material rubber does allow water and fertilizer to pass freely and directly into the soil. Some fear that chemicals such as zinc from the rubber might find their way into the soil affecting soil quality in areas where natural zinc levels are already high in the native soil.


On the other hand, wood chips can also be treated or colored with chemicals that may prove harmful to both soil and plant life. Some wood mulches are made with discarded industrial pallets which may have been contaminated prior to being converted to mulch. To get the most nutrients from a natural source like wood, gardening experts say your best bet would be to go for untreated wood chips, especially for an organic garden that grows edible plants. Once they decompose, the nutrients in wood chips can serve as fertilizer and integrate into the topsoil, thus encouraging biodiversity.



Protection from pests


Wood, of course, attracts termites and other insects that can ruin not just your garden, but also wooden parts of your home. Rubber mulch addresses this problem. It doesn’t rot so pests are not attracted to it, will not build a home in it or make it their primary food source.



Attractiveness


Both wood chips and rubber mulch come in a variety of colors to enhance the look of your landscaping. Both offer natural looking hues that can add attractive accents to your garden or yard. The main differentiator comes down to personal preference and whether you prefer the natural look, feel and smell of real organic materials as opposed to those made to simulate them.


However, when it comes to a sort of all-season easy maintenance landscape, rubber mulch offers an advantage. Rubber mulch tends to hold its color much longer, and as long as 10 years.  Since it is non organic and doesn’t readily degrade the material tends to be a “one and done” solution. Even with hard rain and strong winds, rubber mulch will be difficult to dislodge or float away, so you won’t have to worry about doing emergency repairs to your garden after these harsh weather conditions.



Savings


Initially, rubber mulch will cost more than than wood chips. Over the course of time however the reduction of maintenance and replenishment associated with rubber mulch can make the difference in savings more glaringly obvious. Rubber mulch can last for more than ten years and requires low maintenance, while wood chips might need to be replaced every two years because they decompose. Also, with the problem of termites, mold, weeds, and other pests, you could be adding expenses to the initial cost of buying wood chips for your garden.




Alan Weiman
Alan Weiman

Author