Since legislation disallowed the filling of landfill sites with old used car tyres, businesses have been clever enough to spot an opportunity and diversify into an area that was the domain of bark chippings – decorative mulches and playground floor coverings. But, given the choice as a gardener, which would you choose?
‘Rubber’ Bark Chippings
Well, it sort of depends on what you want to use them for. If you want a simple play area flooring that is capable of cushioning the blows of falling children from climbing frames and swings, then there’s no harm in choosing either (as long as they have been tested to British Standard BS1177:2018 Impact Attenuating Playground Surfacing). Rubber chippings will usually last longer because though they will degrade over time, they don’t naturally decompose. They are also readily available in all sorts of colours, but can sometimes cause staining to clothes.
However, along with the environmental benefits of recycling waste this is perhaps where the benefits of ‘rubber’ bark chippings end. As a gardener, decomposing organic matter is not a concern – if anything, it is actively encouraged by gardeners. So from the point of view of enriching soil, it makes little sense to use ‘rubber‘ bark chippings in beds and borders and in other areas around the garden.
Bark Chippings as Mulch
Natural bark chippings have the ability to prevent loss of moisture from the soil below which is highly beneficial during drier periods of weather; they can also prevent run-off during wetter periods therefore reducing soil erosion. They effectively provide a blanket, protecting plant roots from extreme heat or freezing temperatures and due being a natural product they will break down into organic matter over a long period of time, which is beneficial to the soil by enriching it with nutrients that are essential for a healthy planting scheme. They can be easily topped up to ensure you have the minimum 50mm depth to prevent weed seed germination and can be dug into the soil if you wish to replace the mulching surface completely.
Given the choice, most gardeners would be better off choosing natural bark chippings from a sustainable and ethically responsible source. Whilst ‘rubber’ bark chippings may be suitable for children’s playgrounds, it must surely be better to use a natural product that has come from a natural source.