Red rubber mulch is a type of landscaping mulch made from recycled rubber tires. Rubber mulch is popularly used in playgrounds and sports arenas, yet is also common for use in gardening and landscaping. While rubber mulch can be beneficial in certain situations, there are also some risks associated with the product that make it controversial.
Red rubber mulch is made from processed, ground-up scrap tires and, although it is usually red, it comes in many colors. Rubber mulch is advertised as a long-term alternative to wood mulch for landscaping, because it does not degrade over time. It is also used in playgrounds and sports arenas, not only because it is long lasting but also because it creates a cushioned surface to protect from falls.
There are some landscapers and designers who prefer rubber mulch to traditional wood mulch. Many recommend red rubber mulch for use in landscaping because it is expected to last close to 12 years, unlike wood mulch that decays and must be replaced yearly. Rubber mulch is also easy to maintain, not only because it can be washed clean but because it is heavier than wood mulch won't blow away as readily. Rubber mulch is also beneficial because it does not absorb water like wood; instead, water easily filters through the mulch and all water or fertilizer treatments reach the soil below. Red rubber mulch is made from old tires, so it is considered to be a recycled product and, in this way, is good for the environment.
At the same time, there are downsides to using red rubber mulch. Some lower-grade versions of the product are known to contain wire or other foreign objects that may be dangerous to handle. It should be noted that higher-grade rubber mulch, usually used in playgrounds, is often guaranteed as “wire free.” Red rubber mulch has been known to give off an odor for a short amount of time after application. Rubber also does not add any organic matter to the soil like wood mulch does when it decays, which may be a factor for gardeners or landscapers.
There are also some conflicting reports regarding red rubber mulch. While some claim it to be less flammable than wood mulch, others claim it is more flammable and more difficult to extinguish after a fire begins, because it is made from propane. There are also conflicting reports about how plants tolerate rubber mulch. Red rubber mulch is advertised as safe for use with plants, and many have reported success using rubber mulch in landscapes, yet others claim the use of the product in their landscape or garden caused their plants to die. This may be because rubber mulch leaches zinc into the soil, which may poison some plants.