So I was doing some research on the Internet and ran across this question that was asked in a local newspaper and thought it was a good place to start another discussion on wood mulch versus rubber mulch.

“Doesn’t Wood Mulch Benefit Soil More Than Rubber?

This depends on the types of benefits you are looking for. Rubber mulch provides excellent drainage for the soil and supplies great insulation against harsh weather. It allows a higher degree of heat to be maintained in the soil as well as maintaining its moisture levels. Wood mulch, however, can actually starve plants. Wood chip mulch provides long term benefits to soil as it breaks down, however it is high in carbon which seeks out nitrogen to help it break down into soil. In doing so, it effectively steals the food from the plants it’s meant to protect.”

This brief paragraph raised some questions…well actually one really big question that I am hoping some of you can answer.  I am sure many of your friends and neighbors are still using wood mulch.  How many times have you ever seen them remove the old and faded wood mulch from last year when they add that next layer the following year?  Wait for it…wait for it…you are right, the answer is never.

I wanted to take this a bit further so I called some local landscaping companies to see if they do this on a regular basis and the answer was a bit surprising.  They all said it was a service that they offered but no one wants to pay for this, they just want them to add yet another layer over the old.  I asked them if this was bad for the plants as each year upon year of mulch can suffocate plants, trees and shrubs.  They said it was harmful…but another service they have it installing new plants, trees and shrubs.  You get the picture now.

I know that some of you will say that you will always use wood mulch and that is fine, everyone has a choice and a say in the matter.  I am here to give you as much information as possible to make an informed decision the next time that you head to the local home improvement store to get your mulch.  Most people mulch their landscapes for aesthetics – they like the new color – so we may have another issue to discuss.  Wood mulch fades – the glowing hues of red and brown when you open the bag quickly become shades of dull an unattractive brown.  So this said, a majority of people mulch each and every year, this is not a guess, but a fact.  A treated piece of wood mulch can take more than 4 years to decompose and become part of the soil.  During this time, if you use wood mulch, you have added an additional four layers of mulch to layer that is decomposing.  Each layer is fighting for nitrogen to help break it down.  When it comes to who wins the fight between plants and mulch in terms of nitrogen, mulch wins.

Basically what I am saying is that you cannot have it all when it comes to wood mulch.  You can go with an untreated version (no color) and continually rake it back and forth while adding nitrogen to expedite the decomposition process, but you cannot have the vibrant color that we all love so much.  If you go with the colored wood mulch you will need to remove it each year as eventually it will get too deep and begin to damage plants and trees.  But if you remove it each year, there is no chance of seeing any benefit to the soil as you never give it the opportunity to break down.

To me this sounds like a lot of work!  Make the switch to 100% recycled rubber mulch and don’t worry about mulching for the next decade.  Life is too short – enjoy your yard and spend less time working in it!