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Does Rubber Mulch Kill Plants? (Should You Use Rubber?)

Does Rubber Mulch Kill Plants? (Should You Use Rubber?)

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Sustainability and eco-friendliness are the two golden rules of gardening. And if you’re updating yourself with the latest gardening trends, you’ve likely heard of people using rubber mulch.

Naturally, as any gardener, you’re probably considering using rubber mulch for its advantages over other garden bed layers. But is it safe to use around your plants?

Well, it’s a good thing you found this post.

In this article, I’ll walk you through all you need to learn about rubber mulches. I’ll discuss whether using rubber as mulch for your garden is safe and if it can kill your plants.

What Is Rubber Mulch?

According to the FHWA, the American populace discards over 280 million tires annually. Luckily, clever companies emerged, offering creative ways to recycle and reuse these tire scraps.

Rubber mulch is a product of such innovation.

The manufacturers collect discarded tires from landfills, shred them to bits, color them to create a finished appearance and distribute them for use.

Still, shredded rubber didn’t immediately start as a gardening and landscaping material. Instead, people lay them as cushions for children’s playgrounds to prevent injuries.

But as people saw the benefits of spreading rubber mulch in their yards, they started using it in their gardens and landscapes.

Will Rubber Mulch Kill My Plants?

I can understand how rubber mulch is appealing to some gardeners. Much like stones and gravel mulches, they last longer, don’t need maintenance, and come in many styles and colors!

Unlike organic mulches, rubber doesn’t rot and attract insects. It’s also a solid protection that won’t wash away easily from strong winds or rain.

However, putting appearance and convenience aside, how will your plants fare buried in rubber?

Unfortunately, experts are wary of using rubber as mulch for garden beds. As an inorganic material, rubber won’t decompose and will likely harm the soil and plants in the long run.

A report from the Wall Street Journal backs this point up.

The researchers weighed the benefits of using rubber mulch compared to organic ones like tree bark and pine straw. However, they found that shredded rubber contained chemical residues.

They discovered that some remaining chemicals will eventually seep into the ground and cause a chemical reaction, which can harm or, worse, kill the flora.

Experts from the WSU reinforce these findings, concluding that the toxic rubber substances will contaminate the soil and may even infect nearby bodies of water.

Still, some argue that rubber is safe for plants if you keep it thin and monitor your soil regularly. Although, there’s no evidence supporting this claim as of the moment.

Other Issues In Using Rubber as Garden Mulch

Aside from the potential harm it can bring to your plants, rubber is also more expensive than organic mulches.

Depending on the type and amount, filling your garden can cost you $400 to $1,000.

In comparison, bark or wood chip mulches only cost $35 to $100 per cubic yard.

Of course, the primary obvious issue with rubber is that it won’t provide sustenance to your plants and soil. They don’t decompose, contributing nothing to your garden’s health.

Another problem raised by concerned gardeners with using rubber around your home is they’re highly combustible. In short, they can turn into a fire hazard and endanger your property.

But that’s not all.

If you’ve never encountered heated rubber before, let me tell you this now: they are pungent. They usually exude a distinctive odor when exposed to high temperatures during summer.

5 Rubber Mulch Alternatives

Now that you know the risks of using rubber mulch in your garden, here are five alternatives you should consider:

Wood Chips and Bark

Wood chips and bark are some of the most commonly used garden mulches. These materials are excellent at retaining soil moisture and controlling weed growth.

Compared to rubber mulch, tree materials are highly available and inexpensive. They’re a great budget-friendly option if you’re new to gardening.

Pine Straw Mulch

Pine straw is another fantastic choice for a garden full of plants. It’s a dense, lightweight mulch that’s easy to maintain and attractive to look at!

It’s highly nutritious, too, which will significantly benefit your soil and flora.

Compost Mulch

You heard that right: you can use compost as mulch. Yard waste compost, for instance, will make an ideal layer if you have perennials in your garden.

Compost is incredibly healthy for the soil and plants. Although, it’s worth noting that they don’t last as long as coarse materials like wood chips or pine needles.

Dry Fallen Leaves

Do you have an abundance of trees around your home? What if I told you their leaves work better than rubber as mulch?

So, the next time you’re raking leaves off your lawn, consider using them in your garden. Much like straw, leaves carry nutrients to boost soil and plant growth!

Newspaper Scraps

It might surprise you, but newspapers actually make one of the best weed-suppressing mulch. It’s especially beneficial when eliminating grass shoots and seeds to prepare a new planting bed.

That said, you’d want to ensure you’re using non-toxic newspapers, like glossy or colored ones, for this method to work. Luckily, most newspapers today now use plant-safe ink.


Does Rubber Mulch Absorb Water?

No, rubber mulch doesn’t absorb water. And it’s one of the reasons some recommend using them in gardens and flower beds.

Rubber is non-porous, which means it doesn’t strip its surroundings of moisture.

Does Rubber Mulch Block Weeds?

Yes, rubber mulch can block weeds from growing. As it completely covers the soil, the rubber will prevent sunlight from reaching the weed seedlings and germinate.

That said, organic mulches like bark still outperform rubber in weed prevention.

Does Rubber Mulch Break Down?

Yes. Rubber mulch does break down, though slower compared to organic mulches. Layered in your yard, they can last years without replacement.

For reference, tires take around 50 to 80 years to decompose completely.

Does Rubber Mulch Stain Clothes?

High-quality rubber mulch shouldn’t stain clothes. But if you’re using cheaply manufactured ones, there’s a chance they can bleed under heat and stain garments.

Final Thoughts

Mulches are essential aspects of gardening. Picking the appropriate mulch will help sustain the soil and benefit your plants.

Rubber mulch may seem attractive for its longevity and appearance, but they’re risky to use around flora and are generally expensive. Most notably, it affects the soil quality and doesn’t provide valuable nutrients.

Thankfully, there are plenty of alternative mulches you can choose from. Whether you want the formidable protection of tree bark or prefer to put your stacks of newspaper to use, your plants are sure to flourish!


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