For the longest time, wood mulch dominated the mulching market. It’s still more popular than its rubber counterpart, but rubber mulch is making some waves. More and more common in playgrounds and paths, where its interaction with topsoil is less of an issue, rubber mulching is a source of controversy in gardening. To be sure, rubber mulch has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. In the end, you may decide you want to stay with your traditional mulch, but you should at least take a look at what rubber mulch has to offer.
Where Rubber Mulch Comes from
Rubber mulch is made from recycled tires. Several hundred million tires are discarded every year and some of these are now being used in the production of rubber mulching. It takes approximately 80 old tires to create one square foot of rubber mulching. Not only does this mulching require no tree sacrifices, it reduces the waste that gets shipped off to your local landfill. The problem arises when the tiny wires in radial tires get mixed in with the mulch. Magnets are used but they are hardly 100 percent effective. These wires eventually rust out in a couple months and this causes concerns as to what chemicals are being leached into the ground. Wire-free mulching is available for an extra cost. This mulching is required for playground installation for obvious reasons.
Playgrounds and Other Areas
Rubber mulch is most common for playgrounds. Its superior shock absorption rating outperforms wood mulch, gravel, and sand. Wire-free, rubber mulch is the safest playground material available. For your kids’ backyard play area, it’s also a completely clean surface that won’t be tracked back into the house. While rubber mulch costs approximately twice as much as traditional mulch, it lasts considerably longer. High-end rubber mulch can last for the lifetime of your home. Rubber mulching can also be a great choice for horse arenas and general landscaping.
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The topic gets a little trickier when you start talking about using rubber mulch in your garden. Studies differ—as do the mulches themselves—but there’s a good chance that over time your rubber mulch will leak chemicals into your soil. What chemicals and how much can depend on several factors, but the most common is zinc. Zinc is found naturally in soil, and too much or too little will affect the quality of your topsoil. You test your soil if you’re considering rubber mulch, but the eastern United States tends to have plenty of zinc in the soil already, the western United States tends to have a zinc deficiency. One of the advantages of putting rubber mulching in your garden is that it doesn’t attract termites or carpenter ants and won’t wash away in a rainstorm. On the other hand, if your garden is full of delicate plants that require ideal conditions to grow, you might consider sticking with the wood mulch.
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