Rubber Mulch vs Wood Mulch? Which One Is Right For You?

When I head to my garden store, I’m always amazed by the variety of mulches available. You’ve got your synthetic options like rock and rubber, but there’s also a whole world of organic choices, such as wood chips, straw and leaves.

Now, you might be wondering, “Which one should I pick for my garden?”

If you’re torn between rubber and wood mulch, I’ve got some insights that might help you decide.

Rubber mulch is the go-to for playgrounds because it’s soft and provides excellent cushioning. But when it comes to our gardens, its appeal lies more in how it looks rather than what it does for our plants. It’s fantastic for those ornamental areas where you want style with a dash of function.

On the other hand, I have a soft spot for wood mulch. It’s the kind of mulch that feels like it’s giving back to the garden. As it breaks down, it enriches the soil with nutrients, making it a favorite among gardeners like us who love to see their plants thrive.

But that’s just scratching the surface. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Key Benefits & Differences

When we talk benefits, both rubber and wood mulch share some common ground:

  • Weed suppression
  • Insulating the soil
  • Keeping moisture in
  • Preventing soil erosion

So what are the differences?

The biggest difference between both mulches is that wood mulch is organic, whilst rubber mulch is inorganic.

Therefore; wood mulch will add organic material and minerals to the soil as it decomposes, while rubber mulch does not.

Rubber mulch, while not contributing nutrients, boasts a durability that can last up to 10 years, making it a low-maintenance option.

And while rubber mulch might seem pricier upfront, its longevity can make it more cost-effective in the long run. On the flip side, most wood mulches will need a refresh every year or so.

FactorRubber MulchWood Mulch
How It’s MadeMade from recycled tires.Made from recycled wood, primarily chips and tree bark.
AppearanceAvailable in dyed colors; comes in crumbed or nugget form.Varies based on wood type; generally brownish and more natural looking. Typically sold as nuggets, straws, or shredded.
DurabilityLasts up to 10 years without changing.Needs to be replaced every year or so as it decomposes. Will fade in color.
CostMore expensive initially but lasts longer and requires less maintenance.Cheaper initially but requires regular replacement and maintenance.
Weed SupressionEffective at suppressing weeds.Also effective at suppressing weeds, but may need reapplication.
Temperature RegulationRubber mulch is good at absorbing heat and keeping the soil cooler and is an effective insulation during winter.During hot weather, it keeps the soil cooler by shading it from sunlight, and during cold weather, it helps to keep the soil warm.
Benefits to SoilDoes not add organic material to the soil.Adds organic material and minerals to the soil as it decomposes.
Water AbsorptionWaterproof and does not absorb water. Will hold moisture in the soil.Absorbs water. Will hold moisture in the soil.
Staying in PlaceHeavier and stays in place better during wind and rain.Lighter and can blow away easily in high winds; some types can interlock and stay in place.
Pest AttractionDoes not attract pests.Attracts more pests due to its organic nature.
Toxicity ConcernsThere have been concerns about leaching toxins, but modern rubber mulch is treated to remove toxins and heavy metals.Most wooden mulch is safe, but some are dyed with toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil.
Typical UseOften used in playgrounds, landscaping, and paths due to its durability, vivid colors and safe and bouncy surface.Commonly used in gardens and flower beds due to its aesthetic appeal and ability to enrich soil with nutrients.

Rubber Mulch vs Wood Mulch: An In-Depth Comparison

Rubber Mulch vs Wood Mulch: An In-Depth Comparison

How Are They Made?

Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch starts its life as something quite distant from the garden – old tires from vehicles like bicycles, trucks, and cars.

These tires undergo a thorough cleaning process where every piece of steel is removed. Imagine powerful magnets pulling away any metal, leaving behind rubber that’s 99.9% steel-free.

This rubber is then shredded into nugget shapes, becoming the mulch we use in our gardens and playgrounds.

It’s fascinating to see it transformed from a black pile of rubber to a vibrant splash of color in our gardens, thanks to non-toxic paints and a color-lock system that keeps it looking fresh for years.

Wood Mulch

Wood mulch begins with the remnants of trees – branches, limbs, and bark. This could be from lumber mills or your own backyard trimming efforts.

These pieces are fed into a wood chipper, coming out on the other side as the mulch we’re more traditionally familiar with.

From pine bark to cedar, and cypress mulch, each carries its own story and benefits.

Before being packaged for sale, the wood is usually dyed to achieve a vibrant color and protect it from fading too quickly in sunlight. The dye used is typically derived from food-grade pigments or iron oxide which are non-toxic. The last step is to screen the mulch for quality control (removing any debris) and bag it, ready for shipment.


When I’m browsing through the garden center, deciding on mulches, the visual impact is definitely a big deal for me. And if you’re anything like me, matching the landscape’s color scheme to your mulch is pretty high on the priority list.

Rubber mulch stands out because it comes in various vibrant colors like red, brown, and black. This means you can easily find something that syncs with your garden’s vibe. Plus, it’s available in two styles – crumbed and nugget.

If you’re going for a more polished look, the crumbed variety lays down nice and neat. But if you prefer a more natural aesthetic, nugget rubber mulch has that rugged charm and mimics the look of wood mulch pretty well.

When it comes to wood mulch, you’ve got everything from small chips and large chunks to shredded bark.

Depending on the wood type, such as cedar with its reddish hues or pine bark with a darker tone, there’s a whole palette to play with. Typically, wood mulch leans towards a brownish color, appearing more natural in the setting. Whether dyed or not, it’s got that earthy appeal.

Since wood mulch is all-natural, it will gradually fade and might need a refresh to keep that vibrant look.

Staying In Place

You might be wondering, “Which one actually stays put through wind, rain, and on those tricky slopes?”

Rubber mulch is the heavyweight champion in this arena. Its heft means it barely flinches when the wind picks up, staying right where you spread it. Plus, rain? No problem. Unlike wood, rubber doesn’t break down or wash away when it pours; it stands its ground, making it a stellar choice for those rainy seasons.

If you’re dealing with slopes or high-traffic areas in your garden, opting for a matted version of rubber mulch could really save the day, offering unbeatable resilience against foot traffic and all sorts of weather conditions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, wood mulch has its charms too. It’s lighter, sure, which might seem like a downside when the wind starts howling. But here’s an interesting tidbit: certain types, like the shredded variety, have a natural talent for sticking together, forming a tight, mat-like layer that clings to slopes better than you might think.

In the end, both choices have their perks, but if you’re after something that really stays put, rubber mulch might just be the way to go.

Water Absorption

When it comes to water absorption, there is a stark difference between wood and rubber mulch that could really sway your decision depending on what your garden needs.

Rubber mulch doesn’t soak up water at all. This sounds great, right? Especially if you’re battling with drainage issues and you’re tired of waterlogged soil. But here’s the twist – since it’s waterproof, water tends to run off rather than soaking into the soil where your plants can reach it.

Wood mulch, on the other hand, acts more like a sponge, which is amazing for plants that need constant moisture. However, if you’re already dealing with excess moisture or live in an area with heavy rainfall, this could cause your soil to become too dense and compacted.

Pest Attraction

It’s pretty well-known among us garden enthusiasts that wood mulch can be quite the party venue for pests. We’re talking termites, insects, and the like.

Why? It’s simple. Wood mulch is essentially a buffet for these critters, not to mention it smells invitingly earthy as it starts to break down.

On the flip side, rubber mulch is like a no-entry zone for pests. It doesn’t feed them, nor does it entice them with any organic benefits. Plus, it’s packed tightly, making it tough for any unwelcome guests to wiggle their way through.


Wood mulch feels like the safer bet at first glance. The catch? It’s all about whether it’s dyed.

Dyed wood mulch might look pretty, but if that dye comes from harmful chemicals like lead, you could be unknowingly inviting toxins into your garden. That’s a risk I prefer to avoid, for the sake of my plants and all those little critters (that are helpful to decomposition) roaming around.

When it comes to rubber mulch, there’s a bit of a debate. I heard about concerns regarding rubber mulch potentially leaking tiny bits of no-good substances into the soil and water. But here’s the good news: advancements in how rubber mulch is processed mean it’s getting a clean bill of health. The EPA has even given rubber mulch the thumbs up for use around our homes and play areas.

Here’s what I always tell my gardening friends: always choose mulch from a supplier you trust. Whether it’s wood or rubber, making sure it’s non-toxic is key. This way, you can rest easy knowing your garden is as healthy as can be.

Will Wood Mulch Tie Up Nitrogen In The Soil?

Will Wood Mulch Tie Up Nitrogen In The Soil

As wood mulch breaks down, the bacteria munching away at it use nitrogen. This nitrogen is crucial for our plants to grow strong and healthy.

So yes, wood mulch does technically tie up nitrogen, but only by a small amount. This lack of nitrogen is only temporary and will not significantly harm your plants.

If you’re laying down wood mulch and worrying about your plants getting enough to eat, here’s a simple fix: mix in some nitrogen-rich compost or fertilizer into your soil first.

Rubber mulch, on the flip side, doesn’t break down, so it doesn’t gobble up any nitrogen from the soil. That’s a plus if you’re purely looking at nutrient conservation.

So, Which Mulch Should You Choose?

If you’re tending a garden full of veggies, flowers, or just about anything green and growing, I’d lean towards wood mulch. It’s organic, and as it decomposes, it feeds your soil, making it richer over time. There’s something not quite right about mixing synthetic rubber with the natural vibes of a garden.

However, if there’s a spot in your garden crying out for a low-maintenance, more decorative touch, then rubber mulch might just be your ticket. It stays put, looks neat, and you won’t have to replace it as often.

In the end, it’s all about what your garden needs and what sits right with your gardening philosophy. Whether it’s wood or rubber, choosing the right mulch can make all the difference in your garden’s health and appearance.

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