As a plant enthusiast, I like to explore new trends for the lawn and garden. The other day, a landscaper approached me, encouraging me to go with rubber mulch instead of the regular wood type.

I thought I should do a little research before recommending it to anyone and what I found out was very interesting.

Since I don’t plug product brands or companies, and to be fair and balanced, I will share both the pros and the cons of rubber mulch in general.

Creating mulch from rubber was meant to alleviate some of the problems associated with regular bark mulch, and in the process provide a new way to multipurpose and reduce the number of old tires.

The advertised benefits of rubber mulch include:

It won’t float/sink/blow away.

It won’t decay.

It allows water to seep through.

It doesn’t attract insects.

It discourages weed growth.

It’s cost effective since it lasts for years.

It’s safe for children and playground areas.

It sounds like a great product that will provide a service to gardeners and playgrounds everywhere while benefiting the environment by keeping old tires from being dumped in waterways and landfills.

But I came across some different opinions centered on the environmental effects of rubber tires on plants, children and chemical toxicity issues.

Nature’s Way Resources did studies and even quoted research from Consumer Reports Magazine, Texas A&M University, USDA Agricultural Research Service, as well as a couple of other universities.

They documented several compelling reasons NOT to use rubber mulch.

They include:

Toxic chemicals are released over time and can get into groundwater through leaching and water runoff.

Nutrients may be absorbed before reaching the roots of the plants.

It may cause the soil to become anaerobic, which hinders the decomposing of organic matter and reduce earthworm populations.

The many chemicals in tires can stunt plant growth and may enter into the fruits and vegetables grown nearby.

It can easily catch fire.

Rubber heats up in the direct sun, which could burn skin and overheat soil.

Each individual should determine what they want their children and plants exposed to.

All I am encouraging you to do is rethink and research rubber mulch before buying it.

Darla Horner Menking is a Texas Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at

(1) comment


Corrections: 1. The flash point for wood mulch is higher than the flash point of rubber mulch. Which means wood mulch would ignite before rubber would.

2. Rubber mulch is nonporous which means nutrients from water will NOT be absorbed. If rubber were porous we would have a lot of waterlogged car tires on the road.

3. Most if not all rubber mulch today is painted and sealed with an organic polyurethane so as to keep the .003% of zinc coming in contact with the soil. (EPA Study)

A word on wood mulch: the chemicals used to die the wood are more harmful to soil and plants than rubber mulch.

Happy landscaping!
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