Rubber Mulch vs Wood Mulch: Discover Which is Best for Your Yard


Written by Thomas Godwin

Updated: August 23, 2023

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Rubber mulch versus wood mulch is a common controversy among gardeners and landscapers. Both other similar production values while both have their drawbacks as well. Regardless, while mulch isn’t necessary, it’s a very valuable commodity in the garden for the benefits it provides.

Mulch helps retain heat and moisture in the underlying soil. It also reduces weed growth, improves the overall health of the soil, and adds a high degree of aesthetic appeal to any landscaping or gardening project.

Rubber mulch mostly comes from car tires, mostly as an effective means of recycling. Wood mulch comes from its namesake. As a wood processing byproduct, wood mulch is the most common and popular mulch material on the market. With that being said, let’s break these two down and compare their pros and cons.

Rubber Mulch Versus Wood Mulch: Pros and Cons

Wood mulch is fairly common and, even those who are new to gardening recognize it on sight. Rubber mulch looks a bit different but lays spreads out comparable to wood mulch. As a derivative of old tires, it pays to stick with a premium brand of trustworthy rubber mulch so it doesn’t

Rubber Mulch

Controls weed growth by starving the weeds of sun and water.Since it doesn’t degrade, you will have to remove it at some point, which is difficult.
Never fades, holding its dark appearance for as long as its in place.Rubber is a petroleum product and it remains extra flammable throughout its use.
It serves as an excellent insulator, especially in the winter.You have to ensure the metal is separated from the rubber or it may contaminate the ground.
It controls and reduces mold and fungus growth.Adds little in terms of nutritional value to the soil.
It helps with moisture control because the rubber mulch material doesn’t absorb water.

Wood Mulch

Most wood mulch is completely biodegradable.Wood mulch decomposes rapidly, requiring periodic replacement.
It helps the soil retain its nutrition and even adds to it over time.The decomposition process competes with the plants for nitrogen in the soil.
It’s the more affordable option.Recycling mulch sometimes leaves behind arsenic if the original wood was treated.
You can easily make your own wood mulch.Lack of management may create a matting effect that blocks moisture from reaching surrounding plant roots.
Can be a bug deterrent, depending on what kind you purchase.

As you can see, rubber mulch versus wood mulch comparisons dredge up some undesirable drawbacks for both materials. The biggest concerns from both of them are the potential for leftover wire in the rubber and arsenic in the wood.

How are Rubber Mulch and Wood Mulch Products Manufactured?

How are Rubber Mulch and Wood Mulch Products Manufactured?
Sky Rocket junipers growing in a bed of mulch.


Rubber mulch comes from tires, almost entirely. Of course, they come from a variety of tires, including used, brand new, and defective tires that were never in circulation. The tires that don’t become mulch end up in a landfill somewhere and, in many countries, are lit on fire.

Burning tires releases several toxic chemicals into the air, so it’s not preferable to burn them or simply leave them in a landfill. The most important aspect of converting rubber tires to mulch is the removal of the metal belts within.

If you’ve ever lost a tire on the highway, you’ve probably seen the metal strips sticking out, oftentimes sharp enough to cut. Every last millimeter of metal has to come out. If any metal remains in the rubber mulch, it will leach contaminants into the underlying soil.

Wood mulch manufacturing involves several different methods, depending on the desirable result. There’s leaf mulch, compost, bark mulch, and simple wood chips. Within those mulch types, there are a variety of wood types as well. For instance, cedar chips are a type of wood mulch often spread out along the perimeter of homes because it keeps cockroaches and other bugs out.

Like mulching tires, however, there is also an inherent danger in mulching wood, especially if whoever is doing the mulching isn’t exercising any sort of regulatory behavior. That’s how treated wood occasionally ends up in mulch bags. Treated wood may leave behind trace amounts of arsenic, which will, of course, kill the plants.

Rubber Mulch Versus Wood Mulch: Placement

Rubber mulch application is the simplest of the two, even though the material is much heavier. The longevity of rubber mulch, once it’s on the ground and out of the bags, is roughly ten years. It lays out well and presents a compact and aesthetically pleasing result.

Rubber mulch is best when paired with flower beds and non-vegetable plants, mostly because it doesn’t provide any nutrition to the surrounding soil, something many vegetables need far more than flowers. However, if you’re not a fan of insects (such as ants and weevils), rubber mulch is the better choice since it attracts neither.

Once rubber mulch is spread out on the ground, it’s very difficult to dislodge or shift around due to its heaviness and density. While this might make it a pain to spread it around where you want it to be, it also means heavy rainfall and winds are not likely to move it.

Wood mulch is extensive since there are so many types. Leaf mulch lasts the shortest but is easy enough to gather. All you have to do is rake your yard and the leaves or pine needles you pile up become your new mulch. Bark mulch lasts longer but has a positive aroma (it mostly comes from pine trees) and you can gather it from your pine trees if you want.

Compost is also an efficient way to create a far more nutritious and useful mulch. If you own your composter, it’s even easier to do, though you can also create your compost by creating piles in your yard and maintaining them.

Wood chips are versatile and useful in several ways. From acting as an insect repellent to protecting your garden, wood chips are probably the most common mulch types on the market today.

Which Is More Useful, Rubber Mulch or Wood Mulch?

Which Is More Useful, Rubber Mulch or Wood Mulch?

Spreading mulch over a flowerbed with a rake as preparation for planting.


The most important aspect of the rubber mulch versus wood mulch debate is the usefulness of either. Which one will be more productive in a flower garden, landscaping project, or vegetable garden environment?


Without a doubt, rubber mulch is the best in terms of aesthetics, assuming you prefer a darker-colored mulch. Sorry, but there’s not a lot of variety when it comes to tire colors. Rubber mulch maintains its color for years, without fading. This is true even if it sits in the sun for extensive periods.

Wood mulch, regardless of color, fades over time. In a single year, there’s a noticeable change in wood mulch coloration purely from fading. Exposure to the elements is not kind to wood mulch in the long run.


Wood mulch is best when used in vegetable gardens. Since vegetables in most gardens are harvested annually or bi-annually, it’s a good excuse to replace the wood mulch as well. Also, wood mulch of varying types supplies the soil with the necessary nutrients, especially if you choose to go with compost.

The only drawback is the decaying process. As wood mulch decays, it saps the ground of nitrogen, something vegetable gardens need. However, if you replace the mulch every time you harvest, it shouldn’t be a problem.

If your soil is nutrient-rich and you plan on continually supplying it, rubber mulch is perfectly fine. It won’t degrade and deprive the soil of nitrogen. It also helps the soil retain moisture for longer and it has better insulation properties than wood mulch.

For landscaping, rubber mulch is probably the best choice as well because it won’t fade and look its age in a single year. However, rubber mulch will always be dark grey and if you want more color variety, you’ll have to go with wood instead. Rubber mulch is also a fantastic option for playgrounds.

Since it’s soft, it helps protect the kids from scrapes and bruises while playing. It’s also less abrasive on bare feet. If you’re putting together a playground in your backyard, you already know the kids will have bare feet out there at some point, especially if you live in the South. It’s just too hot in the summer to do otherwise.


Rubber mulch versus wood mulch, in terms of cost, is no competition. Rubber mulch is anywhere between 4x to 7x as expensive as wood mulch. The average cost for wood mulch, per ft³, is $2 to $3. The average cost of rubber mulch per ft³ is $8 to $14.

If you decide to go with rubber mulch but worry about the cost, there’s something else worth keeping in mind—longevity. In the long term, wood mulch will outpace rubber mulch in price because you have to consistently replace it. Rubber mulch will last a good decade, possibly longer.

Once you purchase enough rubber mulch for your needs, it’s unlikely you will need to do so again for a very long time.


Rubber mulch is typically the more nefarious one here, mostly because of leftover metals within the rubber. The good news is, that using rubber mulch means fewer tires in a landfill or a giant bonfire. The bad news is, that rubber mulch is more likely to be harmful to the environment thanks to trace elements leftover from the metals.

Wood mulch is also potentially harmful but only if it’s not sourced correctly and the mulch comes from treated wood. Companies that ethically source their wood mulch ensure that it’s not treated wood. It’s far more uncommon to have contaminants in wood mulch than it is in rubber mulch.

It’s also another good reason to stick with wood mulch for vegetable gardens or any time you plant something you will eventually consume.

Final Thoughts on Rubber Mulch Versus Wood Mulch

Choosing rubber mulch or wood mulch doesn’t have to be difficult. It just depends on what you need. For landscaping or non-edible plants, rubber mulch is often the better option, especially if you want something you won’t have to remove and replace in a year.

For vegetable gardens, wood mulch is the better option, especially if you stay on top of the maintenance. It provides nutrients to the soil (as long as you remove and replace it yearly) and does a good job of providing moisture retention and temperature stability.

So long as you use them for what they are best for, either option will be a good fit for you.

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About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.

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