As important as your choice of swing set and other fun contraptions is your choice of playground mulch. The only thing as constant as kids having fun on the playground is the occasional fall and roughhousing. It becomes clear that mulch for playgrounds is not optional but a crucial part of any playground safety design and your children face a high risk of accident and injury with the absence of mulch on the playground surface.
But knowing your children’s playground is incomplete without introducing mulch is only half the problem. The other half is choosing the best mulch for playground with many good options for your consideration. Your options include wood mulch and rubber mulch among others, each having its pros and cons. The best material for your child’s playground surface would be one that is durable, eco friendly and requires low maintenance costs, especially if you are working with a limited budget.
Here are the best mulch for playground surfaces
- Pine back wood mulch
- Rubber mulch
- Orchid potting wood chips
- Engineered wood fiber
- Cedar mulch
- Play sand
- Natural grass
- Poured rubber and rubber tiles
- Pea gravel
- Synthetic turf
Playground mulch: Top 10 Picks
1. Pine Bark wood mulch
The Pine bark mulch for playground is the way to go if you want a mulch choice that is durable and looks good at the same time. There are many advantages to using pine bark mulch compared to other natural mulch options. One of the more notable advantages is that pine bark retains it color much longer than other wood mulch options. The pine bark would continue to add aesthetic value to your kid’s playground surfacing when others might fade gray after some time. Another stand out feature is tat you can get this brilliant mulch for playground in varying toughness/hardness, ranging from finely shredded pieces to much tougher, bigger ones.
- It lasts much longer than other wood mulch for playground options
- It is relatively colorful and aesthetically appealing compared to others on the list
- It moderates soil temperature and keeps the soil most
- Pine bark mulch reduces the spread of soil borne diseases
- The soil PH can be adversely affected over a long period
- It uses up nitrogen in the soil
2. Rubber mulch
Rubber mulch for playgrounds is a more recent addition to the industry and continues to divide opinion. The main reason why it remains highly sought after is because the best rubber mulch are guaranteed to last forever, you do not need to worry about it decaying like you would with natural options. In the same vein, the most prominent argument against rubber playground mulch is its appearance. The look pales when compared to its organic counterparts and is considered to have little to zero aesthetic value.
- Being weightier than other options on this list, it is less likely to be washed away
- It lasts forever. Its durability is unmatched.
- Rubber mulch insulates plants from heat
- Discourages the growth of weed and fungus
- Very low maintenance costs
- Since it is made from rubber, it does not decompose. Even when you are done using it.
- The chemical components could be harmful to plants
3. Orchid Potting wood chips
The first thing that catches your eye as far as Orchid wood chips are concerned is that they are 100% organic, free from any synthetic substances that might be harmful to your children and plants in you children’s playground. This ensures that you are assured of your children’s safety when playing in the playground even when you are away. One other advantage is it drains water easily, so you do not have to worry about the playground surface being water logged.
- The wood chips are durable and long lasting
- It drains water easily on the playground surface
- It is colorful
- It uses up nitrogen in the soil
4. Engineered wood fiber
These engineered wood chips are the preferred options when trying to cover a large playground surface with budget constraints. This is a budget friendly choice because it does not need to constant top off other options do nor does it require raking. All you need to do is lay the engineered wood chips and it would form a kitted layer when settled that supports walker, wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
- One of the lowest installation costs
- It is attractive with a natural look
- Grass and weed can grow through the knitted mesh
- It can hold dust that could be uncomfortable for people living with allergies
5. Cedar mulch
If you want the playground area to have a luxurious feel, then you should look no further than Cedar mulch. It is not what you will call cost effective as it is the most expensive wood mulch on this list and it is for a good reason. The first of which is that cedar mulch has a pleasant smell and it’s durability ensures that the playground would smell nice for a relatively long time.
- Cedar mulch prevent water run off
- It helps to regulate soil temperature
- It reduces significantly soil moisture evaporation
- It has aesthetic appeal
- It is costly
- It uses up soil nitrogen
6. Play sand
Sand is a common go-to for playground surfaces because it is readily available, it is an affordable option and it is a familiar option. Some children might be unsure whether to play on certain types of wood mulch but will have no issues playing on and in sand because they are familiar with it. For sand to be ideal as a playground surface, it must have gone through some processing like a pressurized water treatment to round the edges and to remove debris and bacteria. Regardless, it is one of the least safe options as children could suffer knee scrapes when they fall.
- It is relatively affordable
- It frustrates the growth of microbes
- It has poor impact absorption
- It might be difficult to navigate for people living with disability.
- It requires you to use a lot of sand
7. Natural grass
Just like sand, natural grass has a friendly, familiar feel to it. Its natural look makes it an ideal choice for a playground as it blends in and add colors to the play area. It is a relatively affordable option as bare spots can easily be covered by adding more seeds but might require a lot of maintenance as you would be raking leaves on clean the play area.
- It cleans the environment as it used up carbon dioxide and releases oxygen
- Natural grass is a softer and cooler surface when compared to others on the list
- It starts to look worn out rather quickly
- It holds water and takes a while to dry
8. Poured rubber and rubber tiles
One common complaint from parents and kids alike about rubber mulch is that it splinters and can get in the eye. But with poured rubber, you would have no such issue as it does not splinter. Asides that, it is extremely shock absorbent as you will not need to use as much as you would with other options on this list. It is also very durable, lasting as long as 10 years, only needing minor fixes and repairs in that time. The surface is highly slip resistant and you have several thickness options for your consideration.
- It is durable and does not splinter
- The surface is extremely shock absorbent, making it candidate for best protective surface
- It makes the playground accessible to people living with disabilities
- It lasts long, but the initial investment can be seen as hefty compared to others on this list
9. Pea gravel
Pea gravel are stones found near water that have been finely ground around the edges as a result of weathering. They are so named because they are roughly the same size as peas and available in colors ranging from white, different shades of grey, rust brown, sometimes even translucent. Pea gravel is the go-to when you do not want to break the bank and you wan to avoid using playground surfaces like play sand that can be carried by the wind.
- It is affordable
- It is not advisable when the playground has play equipment of significant height
- It is not easily accessed by people living with disability, especially wheelchairs, as it can shift underfoot
10. Synthetic turf
Synthetic turf or artificial grass is one of the more popular choices for children’s playgrounds around the world. This is because of the level of customizability it affords, you can decide how robust it would be, how much filling it would have for impact absorption depending on where it is to be installed and who would be using the playground. Synthetic turf is made from grass like yarn or fiber and made to feel like natural grass with clever engineering. Some playground grass is made from recycled material and others are not, it would be best to do your research if you are looking to make a purchase.
- Artificial grass provides top shelf shock absorption when installed with proper padding
- It is not as effective as poured in rubber when falls from significant height are in question
Considerations when choosing the best mulch for playground surface
The very reason these surface options are considered is safety and it would be counterproductive to find out after installation that they themselves are security risks. It is for this reason that it becomes important to find out how safe the options available to you are for playground use. The better options as far as safety is concerned are the natural options as thy reduce risk of chemical contamination but it is also important to factor in impact absorption, especially when the playground features equipment that could see kids fall from significant heights.
You do not want a surface that would require you to close the playground for long hours due to maintenance. You want options that can be easily fixed if there are any issues, ones with little maintenance mean the playground would be open more times and would require little financial inputs going forward.
You should always keep it at the back of your mind that it is a playground and the last thing you want is for it to look gloomy. You should favor options that increase the aesthetic appeal of the place but not over safety.
There is an option that firs into your budget. You should ensure to take time out to figure out what the cost effective option would be, after factoring who would use the playground and how long it would open. These, the cost to install the surface and subsequent maintenance costs should be considered when making a choice.
The above listed are the best playground surface options for you to consider. They are all with their distinct advantages and disadvantages, with either being the preferred option for different situations. The onus is on you to figure which fits best in your plans but you are sure to be pleased regardless of your choice.