Asked on Sep 17, 2013

Need advice on the use of rubber mulch compared to using stone.

by John
My wife and I recently purchased a log-look home in Tennessee. The home is built on a hill which is not too steep but there is a significant slope. The home also has two levels of decking which act as porches for the home. On one side of the house the previous owner spread rock below the deck to control erosion and to help provide a finished look. On the other side of the house, there is dirt below the decking. I was considering adding rock, maybe river rock, to help control soil erosion and provide a finished look. I am now considering using rubber mulch. My thinking is that it would be much easier to put into place. I could do it myself and not need any heavy equipment. I should point out that we have many trees in the area and leaves tend to accumulate below the decks. If rubber mulch is in place, could these leaves be blown out without disturbing the mulch much?

I have never used rubber mulch and I would like to get some opinions. I would like to know some pros and cons for using the rubber mulch as compared to using stone. All feedback would be appreciated.
This side of the house has dirt under the deck.
The left side of the house has stone. Could I cover the stone with rubber mulch?
  50 answers
  • For the cost of rubber mulch, you will get a more natural and beautiful look with river rock or stone. By it by the truck load. Bags will cost you a fortune. I have had the experience of working with rubber mulch when it first hit the market in 2000 and was not impressed with it in a garden. I tried it again a couple years ago in a small area and the look just looks fake after a while... Plus I found it migrated just as easy as pine bark nuggets. I guess I also did not like it because I walked on it barefoot and ended up with a steel wire in my foot OUCH! so I now have an even bigger distaste for it. Your home is beautiful and I would use natural materials Like rock to give a natural look. Good luck.
  • Robin Taylor Robin Taylor on Sep 17, 2013
    I don't have a clue, but your home is absolutely gorgeous
  • Solar Flair Lighting Solar Flair Lighting on Sep 17, 2013
    Don't use rubber mulch; I used to work with landscape architects that used it often for school playgrounds, which was practical for under the jungle gym or at the bottom of slides. HOWEVER, it looks ratty within a few months and is hard to rake and clean. Smooth river rocks would work better (they are heavy enough to stay put during hard rains or a good spray to get rid of leaves, etc. More important: you have a lovely rustic home that exudes nature. Rubber would detract from that, without giving your the aesthetic or practical feel the home deserves. Agree with C R Fuller above: get it by the truckload. It may cost more than rubber (which is not all that cheap), but it certainly will be worth it over both the short and long term.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Sep 17, 2013
    I would go with the rock in a heart beat. They put some of the rubber mulch in our local smells like tires, washes out in rain, and blows around from the wind. Moving crushed rock is not a huge deal if your work in smaller increments. I have been improving my drive for years using a fine crushed stone. I transport about 1/3 of a yard at a time using 5 gallon buckets in the back of my truck. If you have a truck this is a great way to nibble away at the problem. Because I am up in the mountains the landscape yard wants about $200 for a delivery of material...whether this is 1 yard or 8 yards. I can get a 1/3 of a yard for about $15. It may take a few trips but the project moves along at a pace that is not to tough. I can load and unload in a bit over 30 minutes. spreading this amount in a day is easy. having a 8 yard pile in the drive from a delivery would take day to move. I would recommend a 3/4" to 1" aggregate. The larger stone will be more stable. At our cabin where we have clay rich soils that make nasty mud, I going with a 5/8" crushed rock. This is being used on our "paths" that go to the cabin / wood shed / bath.
  • I do want to add, however, that putting in a border to hold in the rock will also help when mother nature decides to open up and let it pour. In TN, I am not sure what type of stone they will have readily available but call your closest rock quarry and ask what they have. In my area in VA we have crushed granite which is really nice in pathways and would look good in landscaping. quarries usually have a display of what they carry. But River Rock would look beautiful. I have a F250 super duty which hauls about ton and 3/4 safely and that is easy to handle and will take a couple hours to work. There may be a minimum if you have a truck and not a dump truck ~here it is $35 and I got ton and 3/4 and if I would have gotten bags it could have cost about $100 to $150! I also recommend do not get rock after or during a rain. It is heavier and harder to handle. Good luck!
  • John John on Sep 17, 2013
    Thank you all for your comments. I really appreciate the information. The comments seem to be all against using rubber mulch. Is there anyone who is a big fan of rubber mulch and would like to take the other side of the discussion?
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on Sep 18, 2013
    What a beautiful home! I strongly recommend using either bark chip mulch or stone mulch/pea gravel. I have both in my landscaping, used in two zones. (Rubber is a foreign object and will not be good for your soil. Also may leach toxins into your soil.) Bark chips will call to the worms, break down slowly and enhance your soil making it even better. This is what I recommend from area you plan to plant living plants you may dig up later on to divide. ZONE ONE: I have stone beds close to my home, under the drip line in areas that I do not plan to dig up/divide and transplant (larger shrubs/ornamental grasses etc.). ZONE TWO: Garden bed areas where I plant perennials I know will at some time be dug up and divided. Decide what plants/shrubs you will be choosing/planting and how you will maintain them FIRST and then plan for the best mulch according to you plants and area usage.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Sep 18, 2013
    Bark like natural wood chips will decompose over time...I made the mistake many years ago of putting wood chips in my drive. (after clearing some trees and chipping the slash) the wood chips will compost and make more mud. In heavy rains bark and wood chips can also float away. Stone has great durability. If you are going to be doing the work you might as well have it last.The pic I posted above of the crushed at my cabin was one of the first is another pic after a few more loads. One added benefit is this type of stone perimeter is also a great protector for wild fires ( we like that aspect due to the remote and part time nature of our cabin)
  • Irish53 Irish53 on Sep 18, 2013
    i find the stone is more sanitary and not as likely to invite mold and other unwanted visitors
  • Carole Carole on Sep 18, 2013
    If you live on a sloping block I would not be going with mulch at all. It will get washed down the slope in torrential rains. We have had this problem. It won't hold the soil and you will be left constantly replacing it and cleaning up the mess. We live on a sloping block also surrounded by many trees. Very steep incline. I would actually advise retaining walls and plants as a better option. You need something to hold the soil and plant roots would be better than covering the soil in the hope of holding it. In areas where there is a lot of land clearing and not plants - the soil will erode away - think of all the landslides that occur in countries where the land has been cleared and devoid of plants. I would go with plants that spread naturally as they have strong root systems that will help keep the soil in place. We use Lomandra and Dianella and some shrubs but of course you will have completely different climate and zones and conditions for plants so something that is not too expensive but will spread and give a good root system beneath the soil would be the go.
  • Susan Cryor Susan Cryor on Sep 19, 2013
    no, don't do it! Chemicals leach into ground and do not nourish the soil. Use real, wood mulch or rock. I agree with the others on Rock!
  • Leona G Leona G on Sep 19, 2013
    Have you thought about using shad loving plants that also don't require a lot of water? You could still use the rock mulch but the plants would add some interest to that area. Whatever you decide make sure to keep the rocks/mulch at least 6" from the foundation.
    • Wolfe Art Wolfe Art on Sep 19, 2013
      @Leona G Yes, I agree with Leona. Fill it with shade loving plants like Hostas and Sedum. It will have it filled in no time and will hold it's ground.
  • Kim Houston Kim Houston on Sep 19, 2013
    We had the same problem when deciding what to use in flower beds around our pool. We went with a good grade of landscaping cloth then used medium to smal flat pieces of rock over that. It was like putting together a puzzle getting it down, but it looks rustic and artistic and lasts for years and years. When I want to add a new plant, I pull up the rocks, cut an x in the cloth, plant, then carefully replace the cloth as close to the plant as possible and add the rocks back. If you want to use fewer rocks, you could add river pebbles in the cracks. Whatever you do, please don't use bark mulch up next to your home. It will violate your termite protection warranty. Nice place you have there, congrats.
  • Elaine Simmons Elaine Simmons on Sep 19, 2013
    Kim, I have never had much luck with landscape fabric, especially on a slope. Eventually the mulch wears away and you are left with bits and pieces of landscaping fabric sticking up. I don't think it helps the plants much either.
    • Kim Houston Kim Houston on Sep 22, 2013
      @Elaine Simmons Maybe it is the difference in climate or the type of mulch, but in hot humid South MS I find that the cloth helps keep the moisture at the roots. Using stone or rocks over it keeps it in place on our level yard. In our front beds we use pine straw mulch and add too it twice a year, so no problems there either.
  • Norma Jean Savitsky Norma Jean Savitsky on Sep 19, 2013
    What a Beautiful log retreat! What real estate agency did you use & how did you find this hidden treasure?
    • See 1 previous
    • Penny Cowell Penny Cowell on Sep 23, 2013
      @John, Thank you so much for the recommendation and yes, your home is beautiful! No steep roads to climb, all paved and Mountain view all in the heart of Wears Valley. Good choice. Glad to have been your and Sharon's agent. You can also find me at Today I listed what everyone always looks for. Private home on level lot and mountain setting seclusion. 3bedroom/2 bath with 3 car garage parking. Covered front porch and screened back porch. $179,900. A rare find here in the Smokies. Y'all let me know if you know someone.
  • Marti Polacik Marti Polacik on Sep 19, 2013
    We live in Maryville,Tn on a small hill. Our property slopes down into the cauldasac. We have a line of trees between our home and the neighbors, which we have used mulch. When it rains, it is really comes down and washes the mulch down the hill. So we added some rocks around these trees, which we thought would help.but it rains so hard at times, that even the rocks did not help. So now we are thinking about adding the smaller river rocks in place of the mulch, possible in the spring. Marti Polacik, Maryville, Tn
    • See 1 previous
    • Marti Polacik Marti Polacik on Sep 20, 2013
      @John We get our rocks from Kellems, it is off of 129 that is in Maryville. Also there is a Kellems in Alcoa.
  • Amy Flores Amy Flores on Sep 19, 2013
    They do make rubber mulch that does not leach chemicals. Rubber mulch also last 12 years compared to wood mulch which lasts 6-12 months. I plan. To use rubber mulch in my small flower beds. I will use the landscaping fabric underneath. The wood mulch I used became molding and ugly within a few months.
  • Rosemary Hesse Rosemary Hesse on Sep 19, 2013
    This is my first year at using red rubber mulch, so far I love it. I also used small white stones in another part of my garden, so it will be interesting to see which holds up best as well as needs little attention when the leaves fall.. I must say of all the suggestions you have received I like Leona G. the best. Why?, because I have an area under a maple tree that I could not find a satisfying result until I planted shade hostas. Good luck
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Sep 19, 2013
    I also use the rubber mulch. It is in my garden beds that have landscape fabric down!. It is easy to spread and nice to use, no slivers like bark mulch! The only problem I see with you using it is, this mulch is light weight and might wash away! Other then that, it is wonderful!
    • Josephine Loffredo Josephine Loffredo on Sep 22, 2013
      @Mikell Paulson We used rubber mulch one yr. thinking it would help with the weeds! It did a little, but the mulch only lasted about a yr. I think a lot of it floated away when we had hard rains, and there was an odor. I did not know about the rubber mulch holding in the heat around trees etc. I'm not much of a gardener, since I cannot stay out in the heat too long to do anything, the dirt is clay which I can't handle to even plant flowers etc.
    rubber mulch holds heat in the ground and burns your perennial roots- also does not provide any nourishment to your soil.
    • Mable Dotson Mable Dotson on Sep 20, 2013
      @DONNA WETHERELL I too used the rubber mulch. It smelled of rubber when the sun was hot but it also killed my tree and some of my flowers because like Donna said, it holds too much heat!
  • Lgsmith Lgsmith on Sep 19, 2013
    I've never used rubber mulch myself, but a new Wal-Mart used it around their plants. During the hot summer sun the rubber STUNK to high heavens. The smell was AWFUL. The store was in N Alabama and the mulch was gone by the next summer. Use something natural.
  • David Perona David Perona on Sep 19, 2013
    John- I am an Personal Assistant to a couple in Rancho Mirage Ca. Late last year, they installed a considerable amount of the rubber mulch around their property. 1) Do NOT get the red mulch, you'll regret it's false look. Get the dark brown. That's what we have and it's gorgeous. 2) It does NOT leach chemicals. 3) It does not stink. I have endured 120 degree heat this summer, and NEVER did I smell the mulch. 3) In answer to your actual question, if you are concerned about leaf accumulation and an ability to easily blow them out: forget about it. It WILL blow out with the leaves.
  • Shelby24019 Shelby24019 on Sep 20, 2013
    The most important reason for putting down mulch is to protect your plants. It helps to keep the roots cool in the summer and holds in moisture. And a natural mulch is the only thing that can give you this. There is a bigger danger of fire with the rubber mulch. The rubber fire would be harder to put out. The stone with the fabric under it would be the best if you don't want to use natural wood mulch. The dyed mulch looses it's color in about a year and leaves only splinters. The natural bark mulch breaks down and adds back to the soil.
    • Bonnie Bonnie on May 18, 2014
      @Shelby24019 Very valid pointers.... The dark brown rubber mulch makes for a great finished look, but if using a leaf blower will blow out with the leaves. Rubber mulch does bring up concern about possibility with fires; it WILL burn VERY HOT and VERY LONG. Rubber fires can only be put out properly using foam, which is not readily available in rural areas. Natural mulch is best for plantings, but not for finishing edges that you won't want to replace yearly. Using River rock for finishing and erosion is a very desirable and long term material to use. It's natural, but will not decompose. Don't be tempted with short cuts if you'd like to relax in the long run......
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Sep 20, 2013
    I have never smelled the rubber mulch, and I have a very good nose and rubber gives me anxiety! I have a hard time buying tires! So not to worry about that! Rock gets very hot , I would say hotter than rubber! Your choice. Natural mulch brings in ants!
  • Norma Jean Savitsky Norma Jean Savitsky on Sep 21, 2013
    Thank you so much. I will check out her site.
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Sep 21, 2013
    Make sure that your mulch does not take away the nitrogen out of your soil! Just saying!
    • Julie Johnson Julie Johnson on Aug 23, 2014
      @Mikell Paulson Research done by Linda Chalker Scott shows decomposing wood chips only use nitrogen at the soil surface. Even if that wasn't the case, mulch is decomposed to the point it no longer uses nitrogen.
  • Jean DeSavage Jean DeSavage on Sep 21, 2013
    Have you thought about using a mulch under the decks and then putting a fine screen from the deck to the ground to block out the leaves? It would also help keep the critters out as well.
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Sep 22, 2013
    I have landscape fabric down and the mulch on that! The garden area are all level. We don't get very much rain where I live! My post say Silverdale, but I live in Port Angeles, and we get less rain here then the rest of western WA. I have had the rubber mulch down and I have not smelled anything! I have a very sensitive nose!
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on Sep 22, 2013
    In Michigan I have had no trouble with natural wood mulch bringing in ants. It does bring in the worms which is a good thing as the worm castings make great soil. Natural mulch helps to keep the soil moist and the plants alive. If this is a summer/vacation home and you are not going to be there to water shrubs during dry periods, natural wood mulch will help to keep your plants alive and safeguard your investment of money and time.
  • Linda T Linda T on Sep 23, 2013
    I put rubber mulch down around 5 years ago. It is great in that it holds it color. However, it easily moves when I use the blower on it. I still love it, but must replenish it every so often. I did not put landscaping fabric down as it surrounds plants.
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Sep 24, 2013
    I have mine right next to the plants! So far I would say it is great!
  • Joann Davis Joann Davis on May 13, 2014
    wood mulch causes termites
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on May 14, 2014
    What did you decide to do? Please post photographs of your cabin when done.
  • John John on May 16, 2014
    I have not yet done anything but I have decided to use River Rock. Now I need to find someone to do the work.
  • Stacey Beck Stacey Beck on Jul 03, 2014
    I'm a fan of rubber mulch because of how soft it is. I have young kids and if they fall down on it they're totally fine. It is easier to put in place as well which is nice.
  • I like natural-cypress - no insects-- stone, pea gravel gets caught in track shoes. Hope you don't have hardwood floors.
  • Julie Johnson Julie Johnson on Aug 23, 2014
    Recycled rubber from tires contains traces of heavy metals so there is a risk of these metals leaching into the soil. Organic mulches such as those made from shredded bark are beneficial to the soil as they break down and provide needed organic material. I personally don't like to use rock for a few reasons: it retains heat, is hard to weed, doesn't break down and improve the soil, and is hard to remove once its in place (sames goes for the rubber mulch. If you no longer want wood mulch, just wait and it will break down). If you choose rock, I would place landscape fabric underneath. Wood mulches don't require it and I wouldn't recommend it, weeds eventually grow through it and then they are really fun to try and pull! As far as termites go, they wouldn't survive the winter in the wood mulch at the depth you would put it down.
  • Heidi Zunino Heidi Zunino on Aug 23, 2014
    I love it! It recycles every year you just move aside, it holds moisture well, hasn't changed my soil to the negative, ever and actually has improved some of the lesser soil. I use in my raised garden beds and it also helps retain warmth. I get the dark brown, from a distance it looks like very healthy soil, up close I really have to tell people it is recycled tire material. Most have 9-12 year warranties as well so can't go wrong in my opinion.
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Aug 24, 2014
    We use the leaf blower on ours , but ours is flat! Landscape fabric and rocks might work better for you. Best of luck in your project!
  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Aug 24, 2014
    I love rocks but it is impossible to keep small ones looking good if you have an abundance of trees as we do! The blower throws them into the mowed area...not good! Get some large rocks here and build a sort of retaining area to hold in the dirt. Here are some photos showing how we put in rocks behind some border grass and then filled in with dirt because this area sloped away from the house and awed to the left. They need to be restacked because our Lab keeps pushing them around to hunt for critters! These weigh about 2o lbs each! The second photo is where we put large rocks and grasses in a sloping area that had too many tree roots for mowing!
  • John John on Aug 24, 2014
    I have decided to obtain the services of a professional landscaper to landscape the area. We will be going with a variety of large stone. Once the work is completed, I will post before and after pictures for everyone to see.
    • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Aug 25, 2014
      @John We had rocks once but the leaves and needles got into them, the blower did not work well with them Good luck!
  • Dona Fellows Dona Fellows on Aug 24, 2014
    Good idea. I'd be concerned using rubber mulch around plants because of the chemicals in the rubber. Might not want that leaching out into the soil, especially around plants. Just a thought.
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Aug 25, 2014
    I have not had any problems with the rubber mulch, in fact one year later my garden looks bigger and better! Plants are thriving!
  • JEWEL C JEWEL C on Oct 13, 2014
    Glad you are using rock. I had a small area with blue rubber mulch to simulate a pond for my gator. Looked nice for a year or so then I heard about the chemicals etc so I am cleaning that out.
  • Rita Wozniak Rita Wozniak on Dec 30, 2014
    last for ever and ever and ever.made of chemicals..
  • Beau Heau Beau Heau on Dec 30, 2014
    You live in a beautiful area of the USA! We honey-mooned nearby in a cabin. I have not heard how many chemicals are in tires, but I can imagine the chemicals would be bad for the wildlife and then 2nd-hand poison whatever preys on them, besides leach into the groundwater. Rocks are a perfect choice...heavy, yes, but better for the environment, and you.
  • RoseAnn RoseAnn on Apr 06, 2022

    I recently bought a home with only rubber mulch. I am removing it all because animals can eat it. It’s rubber so it’s also toxic and it looks terrible. You have a beautiful home. Use rocks of some kind.

  • Nate Nate on Apr 28, 2023

    Im about consistency, though rubber mulch could look great, id do one or the other ( or do borders in one etc)

  • Lara Jain Lara Jain on Aug 17, 2023

    Given your situation, incorporating the use of heavy equipment might be worth considering. Opting for rubber mulch is a practical choice, especially as you're aiming to control erosion and maintain the area's appearance. Its installation is straightforward and doesn't necessarily require heavy equipment, making it a DIY-friendly option. Additionally, when it comes to leaves, rubber mulch can be easily managed by blowing them away without causing disruption.

    However, if you're willing to invest in heavy equipment use, river rock could offer a distinctive aesthetic, though it might involve more effort. To make the most suitable decision, weigh the benefits of rubber mulch's ease of installation and maintenance against the visual appeal of river rock with the potential need for heavy equipment. This will help ensure that your choice aligns with both your preferences and practical considerations.

  • Dee Dee on Aug 18, 2023

    pea gravel is the most economical choice, offering a cost-effective surfacing solution. While rubber mulch may have a higher initial purchase price than pea gravel, its long-term benefits and reduced maintenance costs can offset the initial investment.