The world's resources may be finite, but the supply of stupid ideas will never run out. A stupid idea currently making the rounds is solving the problem of millions of used tires piling up by grinding them into little pieces and using them as garden mulch. Hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Rubber mulch didn't start out as a gardening product. It found its niche as a bouncy, soft surface for children's playgrounds. Yes, research showed that if a kid fell onto rubber mulch from six feet up on a jungle gym, he was less likely to be injured than if he fell on rocks, concrete, broken glass, or sharp steel spikes.
But as the number of children's playgrounds is minuscule compared to the number of houses and gardens out there, the rubber mulch folks turned their attention to suburbia. "Let's get Moms and Dads all over America to spread ground-up tires all over their landscapes," they said. "It'll be YUGE!"
But in order to do this, they had to tout the benefits that rubber mulch has over natural mulches like pine bark, shredded hardwood, and pine straw. Here are some of the selling points they came up with.
- Rubber mulch promotes recycling -- and provides an excellent model for recycling all of those spent fuel rods piling up at nuclear plants. ("Give your garden that special glow!")
- Unlike natural mulches, rubber mulch doesn't decompose, so it's "sustainable." It doesn't add any nasty organic matter to the soil the way bark and pine straw do.
- Rubber mulch keeps the soil surface cool by trapping all of the sun's heat atop it where your feet are.
- You can get rubber mulch in almost any color imaginable.
What's your favorite? Bright red? Purple? Teal? Blue? Why not use a different color in every garden bed? Zowie!!!!
Let's Spread A Little Truth Not gonna sugarcoat it for you. Grumpy HATES rubber mulch. It's stupid and it stinks -- literally. On a hot summer day, it smells like hot tires. Don't know about you, but Eau de NASCAR is not a fragrance I enjoy wafting through my garden.
Secondly, colored mulch looks horrible. Put down purple or orange mulch in your yard and you might as well wear a T-shirt that reads, "Ig-nant & Do'nt Care."
Thirdly, natural mulch slowly decomposing over time is a GOOD thing. Adding organic matter to the soil loosens it, increases nutrient and water retention, and feeds earthworms and beneficial soil microbes.
Finally, rubber mulch isn't a healthy choice. Like everything else, it does break down, and when it does, it leaches a witch's brew of heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the soil and ground water. Rubber mulch is also a fire hazard -- it burns at a much higher temperature than natural mulches and belches toxic smoke.
So forget rubber mulch. That extra bounce it puts in your step just ain't worth it.