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Rubber Mulch …

Kris and I walk at Independence Grove on weekends, and the playground there has “rubber mulch.” (It’s cool to walk on.) We’ve also learned that many are using Rubber Mulch around their trees and bushes and plants. Rubber mulch is mostly recycled tire rubber. Who knows about this? Any experiences? Has anyone used this at home?

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posted April 29, 2008 at 3:52 am

We had rubber mulch on a playground at a church preschool where I worked a few years ago. It’s an expensive groundcover but doesn’t have to be replaced during the year and doesn’t get the bugs in it like cypress mulch. One downside is that it gets hotter than cypress mulch. It sucks up the sun and makes the playground a lot hotter in the summer. It’s a good investment though, depending on where your playground is located and shaded.

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Curtis McGill

posted April 29, 2008 at 5:50 am

Could rubber mulch release stuff (ie. chemicals) into the ground?

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David Reeves

posted April 29, 2008 at 5:53 am

Here in the south, it is a good replacement for wood mulch, the termites have not developed a taste for it yet.

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B. Stanley

posted April 29, 2008 at 7:43 am

We put some around a play set in our back yard about four years ago and it’s still looking good. The kind we bought is dyed red so that it looks like the red cedar mulch.

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John W Frye

posted April 29, 2008 at 8:12 am

We take our grandkids (when they are in town) to a playground that has rubber mulch. We thought it was a good idea as a safety feature if kids fall off the swings, merry-go-round, etc. It did feel squishy to walk on. We have not heard about its use in home landscaping.
Has anyone else heard about home use?

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Randal Birkey

posted April 29, 2008 at 8:15 am

I have a former client who actually makes this stuff. You can visit their website at
It is safe, non-toxic, won’t fade or chip like wood, etc. You can buy iot directly from the manufacturer in the Chicago area.

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posted April 29, 2008 at 8:17 am

John, I’m not sure about home use — maybe landscaping a rock garden. It won’t break down and provide nutrients to your plants.
We did consider it for under our swingset, but it’s just too expensive. Besides, the occasional scraped knee is character building (at least that’s what I told my wife).

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Randal Birkey

posted April 29, 2008 at 8:21 am

You can get info about the EnduraSafe product at and if you are in the Chicago area, you can buy it from the manufacturer. It is safe and non-toxic.

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posted April 29, 2008 at 8:32 am

I’ve got some philosophical and aesthetic biases that I won’t project on you but I think there are also some practical reasons to give you pause before using rubber mulch. You see it used in those types of public spaces for a variety of reasons, convenience being chief amongst them, that have very little to do with the plants/landscape – won’t blow/wash away, resists weeds and pests (who basically interpret it as a dead zone in which nothing could/should live), cushions little feet and collar bones, and in most cases is only meant to be seen by those passing by from a distance. Not all are created equally of course but most contain high levels of zinc and other heavy metals that are very hard on ornamentals and flowers (in most public spaces it is easier/cheaper to simply replace these whole scale with the changing seasons than to maintain them so its not a concern there). It also nullifies the long term benefits of mulch in favor of the aforementioned convenience factor. Ideally mulch is providing your soil with a long term steadily decomposing source of renewable organic matter, keeping your soil temperature down in the summer to hold moisture and thus reduce the need for watering and creating an environment for beneficial soil biology to grow and thrive (you could think of it as the sanctifying work of the Spirit if that helps!) – the rubber pretty much breaks down that process. The moderate presence of “weeds” and “pests” is annoying and requires a bit of work to stay on top of but it is also a good sign of health and life in your soil. Rubber mulch makers advertising on the merits of the absence of weeds and pests is a bit like a faith community advertising on the merits of the absence of sinners and strugglers – sure you could pull it off but not without doing some pretty extreme violence to who and what you were designed to be. Best bet – ask a local nursery owner you know and trust.

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Andrew Ford

posted April 29, 2008 at 9:16 am

It stinks – even more so when it is hot.

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posted April 29, 2008 at 9:19 am

as others have said, it is a great product for playgrounds, but not for home gardens.
around your house, your plants need nutrients that come from the soil. mulch can help to provide these (although compost is much better). rubber mulch will leave you with one option for good growth: fertilizer, which is unhelpful in the long run and can be harmful to groundwater supplies and all that is related to that.

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posted April 29, 2008 at 12:23 pm

The child development center (infant care + preschool) at our church is getting some rubber mulch donated for the playground, which is a good thing because it’s not particularly cheap. It’s safe and clean (it’s been cleaned for chemicals and they use magnets to make sure no metal bits are left). But it’s not especially accessible to those with mobility problems. It’s apparently better if you keep it raked smooth, but it’s not as good as poured in place rubber or woven mats. You can read more about the options on the Kaboom! website. (They’re a non-profit that helps communities install playgrounds. A friend who was an Americorps intern at Habitat for Humanity now works for Kaboom!) In any event, plain wood chips (as opposed to engineered or bonded wood chips) or pea gravel are no longer allowed under some jurisdictions. Finding out what’s allowed in your local jurisdiction for playgrounds is an important first step.

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posted April 29, 2008 at 12:48 pm

We use it on our kids outdoor play equipment. Little feet trample down the grass, and that turns to mud. The rubber mulch gives you a nice, relatively clean play surface that won’t give splinters. It easy to clean and care for.

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posted April 29, 2008 at 11:01 pm

I didn’t read all the comments, so forgive me if I say nothing new.
Rubber mulch is a great idea for kid’s playgrounds, but I’ve also found that it has some benefits in the garden as well.
Working in landscape last year, we had a few clients that used it and we found that there was far less weed pulling in the gardens that used the rubber mulch.

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Barb Hungerford

posted April 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm

There is some concern about whether or not it releases any toxins into the ground. Surely it can contain petroleum products. Not sure if all brands/types have this same concern…

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