Selecting the Best Surface Material for Playgrounds

If you are like us, you have some memorable playground moments from your time as a youth. From swinging so high that your toes tickled the sky to sprinting aimlessly in a game of tag, those times were simpler and filled with pure joy.

It is easy to forget the downside—falling face-first into the dirt, mulch, or whatever else covered the ground. Trust us; we spent more time than we like to admit picking splinters out of our shins.

Now, as adults, we are more aware of the potential playground dangers that may befall our children, nieces, nephews, and so on. While some of these playground pitfalls are unavoidable—kids will be kids, after all—the surface material of a playground can be controlled.

So, what is the best surface material for a playground? Read on to find out.

Meet the Standard

If you are dealing with a public playground, there are a few requirements you have to meet in order to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Part of pleasing Big Brother involves using approved surface materials.

If the playground in question is not a public space, then great news—you are free to use whatever surface material you want.

Engineered Wood Chips

Using natural materials that are ADA compliant is appealing on multiple fronts. Not only are such materials biodegradable, renewable, and readily available, but they are also affordable to purchase. However, they do require maintenance and replacement more frequently than alternatives.

Engineered wood chips are one of the most popular playground surface materials thanks to the factors above, as well as the soft cushion they provide. This is thanks to the process of tumbling the chips to round the corners of the soft wood.

Pea Gravel

With a shape that perfectly mimics the name, pea gravel is composed of pea-sized stones that are round and smooth. Widely considered one of the more aesthetically pleasing surface materials for playgrounds, this option will last for years on end without the need for significant maintenance or new layers.

Due to the natural characteristics of pea gravel, this surface material is harder than the alternatives. In other words, falling off a swing will hurt a bit more. Keep in mind, as well, that pea gravel is not ADA compliant, so you should only opt for this material if the playground is not public.

Rubber Mulch

Made from recycled tires and designed to mimic mulch, rubber mulch is a fantastic option for those looking for a safe, long-lasting material. It is made by grinding up cleaned recycled tires, removing any of the fibers or wires that are present, and adding color to the mix, if desired.

Rubber mulch protects children from injury when they fall thanks to its nonabrasive, soft nature. It also does not break down like the alternative surface materials, meaning it requires little to no refreshment. All you need to do to keep it in prime condition is remove foreign plants and objects, occasionally rake the surfacer to loosen up compacted layers, and give it a good spray with water from time to time.

Rubber mulch is ADA compliant and offers tremendous benefits. It is important to note, however, that it is more expensive than the other options and has a tendency to retain heat, making it a questionable choice in hot environments.

All of the playground surface materials discussed above have their advantages, leaving you to select the one that works best for your unique application. If you require further guidance selecting the right material for your use, installing the material properly, or understanding the maintenance each demands, consider working with an experienced landscaper.

With over 20 years serving Florida, Landcrafters has learned a thing or two about playground surface materials. Contact us today to speak to an expert about your playground needs—or anything else landscape-related.

While you are at it, be sure to check out our blog. It is full of helpful landscaping tips, tricks, and knowledge like what is included here.