What to Put Under a Backyard Playground?

What to Put Under a Backyard Playground?

A play structure or complete playground in your backyard boosts the enjoyment of children who live in or visit your home. When purchasing playground equipment, selecting a ground cover choice, and installing the play set, safety is, of course, the top priority. With that being said, what is the ideal ground cover for your backyard playground?

Rubber mulch is the best material to put under your backyard playground since it is the most well-rounded. It is low-maintenance, has superior impact absorption, and comes in various colors to match your landscape. It is also cheap in terms of maintenance over time. Other options include sand, pea gravel, and wood mulch.

In this article, we will tackle the best ground cover for your backyard playground. We will identify each material’s weaknesses and advantages. This comparative article will surely guide you to what’s best for your playground and help you choose one that is ideal for you.


Choosing a Ground Cover for Your Backyard Playground

When it comes to the ground beneath your backyard playground, you have a lot of choices, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. So, what’s the greatest material for a playground’s foundation? It is best to choose one that is safe for your kids without compromising the community guidelines.

Plastic, metal, or wood make up the majority of playground sets with swings, slides, and other fun elements. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but playsets built of any of these materials may be seamlessly integrated into your landscaping for a seamless transition from the play area to other sections of your yard or common space.

Although it may not appear to be a major issue, depending on the type of accident you may face, certain materials are more likely to avoid life-threatening injuries than others. The sheer amount of choices and factors to consider might be intimidating. Perhaps you have thought of the following questions:

  • What kind of material should I use for a playground’s foundation?
  • Can I use wood mulch?
  • Which mulch is best for playgrounds?
  • What is engineered wood fiber?
  • Which is better between rubber mulch, rubber mats, pea gravel, and sand?

You should also think about the safety, cost, maintenance, and aesthetics of each choice. As we’re here to assist you, we’ve put up a guide to help you choose the best playground surface for your lifestyle and needs.

The varieties of playground floors are divided into two categories: loose-fill materials and unitary surfaces. Let’s take a look at them and weigh their advantages and pitfalls.


If you want your kids to spend more time outdoors and have fun at the same time, you should consider getting a playset for your backyard. A playset is a big addition to your property that your kids will surely enjoy, but is a backyard playset worth it? Read our article to find out. 


Loose-fill Materials

We will tackle what material belongs to loose-fill and, for each type, we will discuss the safety, cost, and maintenance.

1. Wood playground mulch or engineered wood fiber (EWF)

Wood mulch has a natural appearance that goes well with any sort of landscape. Mulch is affordable, natural, and ecologically safe, all of which contribute to its widespread usage in playgrounds. Wood mulch is also available in a range of hues, making it easy to match to your residence. Red, brown, and black are the three most popular colors.


Playground mulch made of wood is a safe alternative as wood mulch provides sufficient shock absorption, with nine inches protecting against falls of up to seven feet. Wood mulch, which absorbs and drains moisture, is an excellent choice for surfacing playgrounds.

The following are some of the disadvantages in terms of safety:

  • Mold and insect infestations can cause the wood to rot.
  • There’s a chance it’ll hide dangers (e.g., broken glass).
  • In the winter, there is a risk of it freezing.
  • There’s a chance you’ll get splinters.
  • Densely populated places may disperse and become less effective.

Another thing to keep in mind is that mulch can cause choking. Loose-fill alternatives should be avoided on playgrounds for toddlers in general.


Wood mulch is typically inexpensive upfront and simple to put. It is also easy to get. Although it is cheaper than other alternatives, such as rubber mulch or rubber matting, it requires more care. Indeed, wood mulch must be changed every year and raking must be done regularly to guarantee optimal covering.


When it comes to preserving wood mulch, there are a few things to keep in mind. Mulch compacts and decays with time, so it’s important to refill and/or top it up as needed. Mulch can get dirty and wind up all over the yard or outside of the playground area, so it’s important to clean up after it.

Mulch will have to be redistributed when it is moved about in heavier traveled areas to guarantee safety in those locations. A commercial fanny pad placed at the end of slides can provide some comfort while also keeping mulch in place.

2. Rubber playground mulch

Rubber playground mulch may not have the same natural appearance as wood mulch, but it is available in earth tones. Thus, you have several colors to pick from to fit your décor, scenery, and your ideal backyard playground.


Rubber playground mulch absorbs the most impacts of all the materials. Being six inches thick, it can protect against falls of up to 10 feet. Rubber mulch, like wood mulch, has the potential to be displaced. Thus, it should be closely checked to ensure that high-trafficked areas are well covered.


Rubber playground mulch is more expensive than grass, wood mulch, pea gravel, and sand at first. However, it retains its worth longer and requires less maintenance.


Because rubber playground mulch is a low-maintenance surfacing option, it is initially costlier. Rubber mulch, unlike wood mulch, does not need to be changed annually and may never need to be refilled. Rubber mulch is long-lasting, easy to install, and only needs a light raking to ensure the level distribution and remove any waste.

3. Pea gravel

Since pea gravel is made up of tiny stones, it has a natural appearance. It is a low-cost alternative that is frequently used in parking lots, dog runs, and playgrounds. It has a natural appearance and can help minimize weed growth at a reasonable price, but does not give much protection for soft landings.


Although pea gravel isn’t the most impact-absorbing material, it does provide significant support. Pea gravel in the depths of nine inches protects against falls of up to five feet. When utilized heavily, this form of loose-fill can compress and redistribute. Thus, it should be shoveled/raked frequently.

Pea gravel is generally clean and does not encourage the growth of microbiological organisms when it comes to cleanliness. Animals find it less appealing than sand. Pea gravel and other loose-fill materials are not suggested for toddler playgrounds as they are considered choking hazards. Pea gravel does not fulfill ADA mobility criteria and is difficult to maneuver for individuals with impairments.


Pea gravel is inexpensive, but the ongoing expenditures are significant. It degrades over time and must be replenished to maintain maximum safety, which can be costly in the long run.


Pea gravel breaks down into smaller particles when used and exposed to the elements. These tiny particles can form a “hardpan,” which is difficult to break apart and dangerous if stepped on. Pea gravel should be replenished if this happens. Shoveling/raking to disperse the gravel for optimum injury protection is part of frequent maintenance.

4. Sand

Sand can scratch your knees, and certain varieties may include toxic chemicals that you don’t want near your dogs or children. However, sand designed expressly for play areas should be softer and safer than other sorts. When kept clean, sand does have a natural appearance and can blend in with most settings.


In terms of impact absorption, sand is the least effective loose-fill playground material. A nine-inch layer of sand guards against four-foot falls. Sand, like pea gravel, does not fulfill ADA mobility criteria and may be tough for those with disabilities.


Sand is a low-cost, commonly available, and simple-to-install solution. However, because constant care is required to keep it clean and playable, the long-term expenses might add up. If sand becomes soiled rapidly, it should be replenished at least once a year, if not more frequently.


Since sand attracts animal waste, insects, and can hide toxic items or objects, it can be time-consuming and difficult to maintain. As kids play in the sand, it will redistribute, so it’s vital to rake and level it back to a consistent surface. Sand should be replenished at least once a year or as needed. If exposed to the elements, sand may grow filthy more quickly and require more frequent replacement.


When building a play area in your backyard, one of the things that you need to carefully consider is how to keep the structure safe for your kids. One of the safety measures that you can add to your play area is ground cover. There are a lot of materials that you can use for this but the most common ones are pea gravel and rubber mulch. The question is, which should you choose for your play area, pea gravel or rubber mulch?


Unitary Surfaces

Here is a list of unitary materials used for playground surfaces. For each type, we will discuss its safety, cost, and maintenance.

1. Poured rubber and rubber tiles

Rubber mats come in various styles and may be customized to suit your needs. Although they don’t have the same natural feel as mulch, they do come in several colors. In general, the lighter the hue, the better, especially if exposed to direct sunshine.


Rubber mats that fulfill the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards are considered safe. When buying a mat, it’s critical to make sure it matches these requirements. Rubber mats guarantee that nothing dangerous falls between the layers, which is rarely the case with mulch. Mats are an excellent choice for any toddler-friendly playground. Another thing to keep in mind is that if black carpets are exposed to direct sunlight for an extensive period, they can become quite hot to the touch.


Rubber mats’ prices differ wildly depending on the quality and manufacturer. They are, however, comparable to rubber mulch in that they are costlier than wood mulch, pea gravel, and sand.


Rubber mats require relatively minimal maintenance and are simple to clean. They should be swept or cleaned as needed, but except for the probable repairs of broken areas, they will last a long period with minimum maintenance.

2. Natural Grass

Natural grass, as a ground cover, gives a natural aesthetic that many homeowners enjoy. It’s a popular choice for beneath backyard play structures, especially because it usually only requires putting the playset on an existing lawn.

Natural grass, when used as part of your environment, can be incredibly good-looking. While some may believe it has the most visual appeal, the high maintenance costs and lack of safety may negate this benefit.


The least impact-absorbing surface material on this list for a backyard playground is grass. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission considers grass to be unsuitable for playground surfaces. As grass develops, it loses its shock-absorbent properties and offers minimal protection from impacts. When wet, grass may be a slick surface. Plus, it can also create uneven areas, which can cause toddlers to tumble.


Although grass may appear to be the cheapest option at first, because of the extensive maintenance required, it can quickly become the most expensive one.


Grass has to be mowed, weeded, watered, and fertilized regularly. All of this maintenance can be costly and time-consuming, making grass one of the hardest alternatives to maintain. Watering grass may destroy wood buildings and cause metal structures to rust.

3. Artificial grass or turf

Artificial grass, which resembles real grass, may be visually appealing and compliment your landscape. It’s constantly green, and thus, appears to be constantly fresh. However, if the grass landscaping near the turf is not well-kept, this might be a disadvantage. If the surrounding grass is browning, the fake grass will stand out.


Artificial grass has superior drainage to natural grass, which means it is more slip-resistant. It also provides a flat, somewhat cushioned playing surface compared to natural grass. Artificial grass, on the other hand, will get hotter in the sun than natural grass. Since turf does not absorb much impact, it is not necessarily the best choice for playground structures that are high off the ground.

Several sorts of shock-pads may be fitted beneath, although the exact degree of impact absorption might vary substantially. If you choose this option, look into the many types of cushioning available.


Artificial grass is more expensive to install but requires less maintenance in the long run. Over time, a tiny bit of care may save you time and money.


Artificial grass doesn’t require much maintenance once it’s set in place. Although, it may be essential to wash the material when it grows soiled, and repairs may be required if the material gets torn.


A playset is a great addition to your backyard that your kids will definitely enjoy. Since the young ones will be spending a lot of time playing in this structure, you need to carefully consider the playset that you are planning to get. To help you with this, we have a guide to choosing the perfect backyard playset that you can check out.


What Is the Best Material for a Backyard Playground Surface?

The ideal material to use under your backyard playground depends on the age group for whom the playground is meant, the height of the swing set or playground, and its location. Rubber playground mulch is the substance that we feel is the best-rounded.

Except for toddlers, we recommend utilizing rubber playground mulch for all ages. Rubber mats that meet American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards should be used in toddler playgrounds.

Rubber playground mulch is low-maintenance, has excellent impact absorption, and comes in a wide range of colors to complement your ideal playground or landscape. It also has a low lifetime cost. The price may appear high at first, but it has a reduced lifetime cost since it is sturdy and lasts a long time with minimum maintenance.



Installing a playground in your backyard will definitely delight your kids. Aside from choosing the play structure itself, there are other factors that you need to take into consideration, such as the ground cover for your playground. It is important that you choose the correct material for your ground cover since this will serve as a safety measure to protect your kids from falls and other playground related accidents.

All the materials mentioned above have their benefits and drawbacks, but what comes first is safety. It should take precedence over all other considerations when making a decision. Our children should be able to play with as few risks of injuries as possible. As a property owner, cost and maintenance are important but should always come after safety. That’s why we advise you to carefully decide and choose the safest materials.

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