Rubber bark chips didn’t start out as a garden product. It found its niche as a bouncy, soft surface for children’s playgrounds. Yes, research showed that if a child fell onto rubber material from six feet up at a jungle gym, he was less likely to be injured than if he fell on rocks, concrete, broken glass or sharp steel spikes.
But since the number of playgrounds for children is minimal compared to the number of houses and gardens out there, the rubber bark chippers turned their attention to suburbs. “Let’s get moms and dads spreading ground cover all over their landscapes,” they said. “It’s going to be HUGE!”
So to do this they had to highlight the advantages that rubber mulch has over organic mulches like pine bark, shredded hardwood and pine straw. Here are some of the selling points they came up with:
- Rubber material promotes recycling – and provides an excellent model for recycling all the spent fuel rods that pile up at nuclear power plants.
- Unlike natural mulch, rubber mulch does not degrade, so it is “sustainable”. It doesn’t add any nasty organic matter to the soil like bark and pine straw do.
- Rubber bark chips keep the ground surface cool by trapping all the sun’s heat on top of it where your feet are.
- You can get rubber mulch in almost any color imaginable.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Rubber Bark Chips
Rubber material is not healthy for the health of your garden
Rubber bark chips are not a healthy choice. Like everything else, it breaks down, and when it does, it leaches a witch’s brew of heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater.
Rubber material is a fire hazard
Rubber mulch is also a fire hazard – it burns at a much higher temperature than natural mulch and belches toxic smoke.
It smells bad
I won’t sugar coat it for you. I hate rubber bark chips. It stinks – literally. On a hot summer day, it smells like hot tires. I don’t know about you, but ‘Eau de NASCAR’ is not a scent I enjoy wafting through my garden.
Rubber Mulch looks bad
Colored mulch looks awful. Putting down orange or purple rubber material on your lawn should be a crime.
It is difficult to remove
Getting all the little pieces of rubber out of the soil in your flower bed is a huge pain. You may even have to remove the topsoil to get them all out of the ground. On the other hand, organic mulch breaks down naturally, so you don’t have to worry about getting it all out of your garden.
So why use organic mulch?
It is good for the environment
Natural mulch that slowly breaks down over time is a good thing. Adding organic matter to the soil loosens it, increases nutrient and water retention, feeds earthworms and benefits soil microbes.
Organic mulch looks good
There’s nothing like a fresh layer of mulch in your garden beds.
It helps control weed growth
You don’t have to bend over backwards and pull up so many weeds in your flower bed. Mulch helps control weeds and increases your product quality at the same time.
Organic mulch is better at retaining moisture
Organic mulches do a good job of retaining moisture in the soil and keeping it cool.
It is relatively cheap
It is quite cheap, although you will have to replace it more often as it degrades. Rubber mulch and other inorganic mulches generally have a higher upfront cost.
Options for organic mulch
Here are a few options to choose from when choosing a type of organic mulch for your garden.
Bark and wood chips
Bark and wood chips are commonly used types of mulch that are good at retaining moisture, keeping the soil insulated and suppressing weed growth. It is also quite cheap and is very pleasing to the eye. This type of mulch is best used for landscaping and vegetation, although it should not be used in vegetable fields as the acidity level may be too high.
The next time you rake your leaves, consider using them as mulch. Dry leaves contain a lot of nutrients that will help improve the condition of your soil while maintaining moisture and preventing weed growth – and they do even better when composted. Shredded dry leaves break down faster, won’t matte as much and generally look nicer. Regular shredded leaves will do just fine though – just move them once in a while to prevent matting. It can be used in any garden and earthworms love it too!
There are both advantages and disadvantages to using grass clippings as a mulch option. Some advantages are that grass clippings will increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil, promote growth, are plentiful and free or cheap, and control weeds. However, when they decompose, they can give off a foul smell, so it’s best to use them in a place you don’t visit very often in your garden and turn them at the end of the season to prevent too much smell. Do not use clippings during a rainy time of year as they may develop their roots. It is also important to make sure to spread grass clippings in a thin layer so that it does not prevent moisture from penetrating.
Straw does well in vegetable fields as it keeps disease away from the lower levels of the plants, reflects light, retains moisture, adds nitrogen to the soil and controls weeds. In fact, straw does not have seeds that will produce weeds. Straw should last the entire growing season and is not difficult to rake up or into the ground if you need to – which means less work for you.
Compost will provide a slow-release nutrient boost and will improve soil health while adding a protective layer, securing moisture and providing plants with some insulation from harsh temperatures. Plus, it’s something you can do at home.
After reading today’s paper, try tearing it up into small pieces and using it in your garden for mulch! Newspaper is super helpful to insulate your plants from the cold during the winter months, and will also prevent too many weeds from growing.
With all these organic options, who needs rubber bark chips? The extra pep it puts in your step just isn’t worth it. Do you use rubber material? What kind of organic mulch do you prefer to use?
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