Alternatives to Rubber Mulch

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Rubber mulch is a landscaping and gardening material made from recycled tires that are shredded into small pieces and sold as ground cover. Rubber mulch doesn't break down the way organic mulches do. Rubber mulch also prevents the possibility of slivers, making it a good, soft option for areas where children play. However, rubber mulch may contain bits of metal from the tires, and can allow chemicals to enter the ground, contaminating the garden or play area.

Wood Mulch

  • Wood mulch is the traditional alternative to rubber mulch. While rubber offers greater durability and softness, wood is generally safe, and may take years to disintegrate, depending on the climate and the acidity of the soil. Homeowners who often clear trees or brush can make their own mulch by shredding the excess wood in a chipper or a lawnmower's mulcher attachment. Wood mulch provides nutrients that can help plants grow, and also serves as an attractive surface for a garden.

Landscape Glass

  • Landscape glass is another synthetic mulch. Like rubber mulch, it's made from recycled materials, in this case, old glass bottles. Landscape glass manufacturers tumble the glass shards in a drum until all the rough edges are worn away. The resulting glass bits reflect light, making for a brightly colored and reflective garden surface. Like rubber mulch, glass mulch is very durable.

Plastic Mulch

  • Plastic mulch is yet another type of synthetic garden cover. It is very inexpensive, making it a cost-effective option for gardeners with a large area to cover. Plastic mulch may prevent water from reaching the soil below, so it's a good idea only in gardens that receive heavy rainfall or contain drought-resistant plants. As a playground cover, plastic mulch offers the same safety benefits as rubber mulch.

Rubber Mats

  • Solid rubber mats aren't much use in the garden, but for a play area, they may be the safest option. Though more expensive than mulches, rubber mats provide complete coverage of the ground, and are easy to clean with a mop or broom, making it easy to keep the play area safe and clean. Rubber mats also come in a wide range of colors, so playground planners can imitate different types of surfaces such as sand, water and grass.

Gravel and Pebbles

  • Using gravel and pebbles in a garden can give the space a more interesting look and complement certain plants and garden styles. Gravel is especially useful in regions where rainfall is limited. Gravel requires infrequent replacement and consumes no water, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to mulch or turf grass. A gravel garden may feature hearty plants like desert succulents that thrive in rocks or sandy soil.

Other Organic Mulches

  • To avoid the chemical contamination of rubber mulch, and to add nutrients to a garden, gardeners may use any number of additional types of organic mulch. These include grass clippings, straw, hay, and even leaves. While these materials are likely to break down quickly, their nutrients go directly into the soil to feed the plants. A layer of this type of organic material may be best beneath a more durable layer of decorative rubber or wood mulch.

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  • Photo Credit pine bark mulch image by robert mobley from Fotolia.com
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