Dear Angie: I recently put down recycled rubber as mulch for my front flower bed. It looks great now, and I like what I've heard about it not being an attractant for insects. I dug out the bed, removed an enormous amount of weeds, laid down weed fabric and added the rubber mulch. Now, I'm wondering if I've made a mistake. How reliable and sturdy is the rubber mulch compared to wood chips? — Maureen H., Brentwood, Calif.
Dear Maureen: Rubber mulch has a reputation for being long-lasting and durable, and it has grown in popularity in recent years. It's especially popular as a ground cover for playgrounds because it's soft and springy. But it has gained ground in the garden as well.
Rubber mulch is a recycled product, made of old tires that have been stripped of metal parts. Landscape experts tell our consumer-services research team that the mulch does not fade as fast as traditional wood mulch and won't float or blow away, as many softwood mulches do during heavy rains or high winds.
Properly installed, rubber mulch requires little maintenance compared to wood mulch and can last for 10 or more years; wood mulch is generally replaced each year. It allows water and fertilizer applications to pass through to the soil.
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Rubber mulch also does not attract termites or carpenter ants, as wood mulch does, so it will help protect your flowers, plants and home from the pests.
But it's not perfect. One negative is its price. It's quite a bit more expensive than other mulch products. But because it lasts significantly longer, you might see cost-saving benefits over the long haul.
Rubber mulch cannot be tilled into the soil, so weeding is usually done by hand. Rubber mulch also doesn't provide the nutrients or organic matter to soil that wood does when it decomposes. Rubber mulch must eventually be removed.
I think you had the right idea to lay down weed fabric. That helps to prevent weeds and ensures that the rubber doesn't get into the ground. Our experts say it's extremely hard to remove when it does get into the ground.
Experts agree that mulching in the spring or fall is a good way to inhibit weed growth, retain moisture and add to the aesthetic appeal of your landscape.