When it comes to playground ground cover there are many options available.

Depending on the size, surface and materials being used things can get  out of hand financially pretty quick.

In this article we’ll explore a variety of safe options and easy solutions so you can get the job done- DIY style.

  • Wood Mulches
  • Sand
  • Rubber Mulch
  • Pea Gravel
  • Rubber Mat (Playground Tiles)

Further along we will examine these materials more closely, covering the different types of each, along with other key factors so you can make the best-informed decision possible.

All of these materials can be picked up or delivered to your play area and installing them yourself is a great way to save money and spend time with your family.

It should be noted that when buying a quantity of materials such as Wood Mulch, Sand or Pea Gravel, they are usually sold in a measurement called Square Yard.

The chart below converts one Square Yard of these materials (Wood Mulch, Sand, and Pea Gravel) into Square Feet, with the recommended safety depth set by the National Safety Council calculated in.

This makes things a lot easier as all you have to do is measure your coverage area in feet to determine how many Square Yards to order.

Price and Coverage Area Chart

This chart will tell you the cost and coverage area size associated with it. The recommended depths from the Nation Safety Council are already calculated in.

*The measurements for Wood Mulch, Sand, and Pea Gravel are converted from 1 Square Yard to Square Feet for your convenience.

Things to Consider Before Choosing A Playground Ground Cover

Now that you have an idea of what each material costs and how much of it you may need, let’s examine each material with these key factors in mind.

  • Safety – Is the material safe?
  • Lifespan – How long will this material last?
  • Appearance – Is the Material visually appealing?
  • Availability – Can I get this Material in my area?
  • Affordability – How much does it cost?

Wood Mulches For Playground Ground Cover

Wood Chips

Chopped and shredded pieces of natural wood. Smoother and less jagged than traditional wood mulch makes this a slightly safer option. If your playground is in an area that’s prone to flooding then you may want to consider a heavier option as wood chips are light and can float away. Make sure you get all-natural wood chips as some companies sell dyed or treated chips.

  • Safety – Very safe
  • Lifespan – 5 – 7 years depending on how much the area is played on
  • Appearance – A natural look that blends into any yard
  • Availability – Available in most areas and easy to find
  • Cost – $10 – $60 for a square yard, that’s a 27′ x 27′ area that’s filled 12” deep

Shredded Wood Mulch

This is what’s traditionally used in flower beds and can make a suitable ground cover. Heavier than wood chips, traditional mulch tends to stay in place without blowing or washing away. Usually a byproduct of the paper and lumber industries, traditional mulch is made from used timber and other various wood products. Make sure to get mulch that is all-natural with no dyes.

  • Safety – Relatively safe, but can cause splinters
  • Lifespan – 5 – 7 years
  • Appearance – A natural look that blends in well and is usually darker in color than wood chips
  • Availability – Available in most areas and easy to find
  • Cost – $10 – $60 for a square yard, that’s a 27′ x 27′ area that’s filled 12” deep

Bark Mulch

Chopped and shredded pieces of tree bark that is usually lighter in weight than traditional wood mulch. If your in an area that’s prone to flooding you may want to consider using traditional mulch as the lighter bark mulch tends to float away. Make sure to get bark mulch that is all-natural with no dyes.

  • Safety – Very safe
  • Lifespan – 8 -10 years
  • Appearance – A natural look that blends in well and is usually darker in color than wood chips
  • Availability – Available in most areas and easy to find
  • Cost – $10 – $60 for a square yard, that’s a 27′ x 27′ area that’s filled 12” deep

Cedar Mulch

I have written a comprehensive guide for using cedar mulch as a playground ground cover. You can check that article out here (opens in new window).

Cypress Mulch

If you’re considering cypress mulch, please read my article on the subject here (opens in new window).

Where To Purchase Bulk Wood Mulches

You can purchase a variety of wood mulches from The Home Depot in bulk, which are available for both pickup and delivery. Clicking on the picture below will take you to The Home Depot’s selection of wood mulches.

Rubber Mulch For Playground Ground Cover

Rubber Mulch – A recycled product usually made from tires that doesn’t break down or decompose. New rubber mulch tends to have a bit of an odor (think walking into a tire store) but dissipates over time. Most rubber mulch products will stay true in color without fading for 8 – 12 years. Rubber mulch is good for the “long haul” and will provide a safe, cushy, bouncy surface.

  • Lifespan – 10 – 50 years (color will stay true for around 10 years)
  • Appearance – A dark color that’s still ascetically pleasing in your yard
  • Availability – Lowe’s and Home Depot sell this product and you can also order
  • Cost – A sack of this from Lowe’s or Home Depot will cost around $379 and will cover a 154′ x 154′ area 3” deep

Where to purchase bulk rubber mulch

You can buy bulk (or by the bag) rubber mulch, which can be delivered to your home. The prices are very competitive as compared with The Home Depot. Rubber mulch comes in many different colors.

Playground Sand For Playground Ground Cover

This classic ground cover has been used in play areas since the late 1800s. Available in fine and coarse grain, it is recommended to use coarse grain playground sand as fine-grain can blow around easily and get into your eyes and lungs.

  • Safety – Relatively safe. The only concern with fine grain sand is that it can be blown into the eyes and gets dusty and can be inhaled. Other safety concerns are that it can sometimes be used as a litter box by cats
  • Lifespan – 3 -5 years. Usually you can add just add a few bags of sand if your play area starts to thin out
  • Appearance – Beautiful classic look
  • Availability – If you can get wood mulch delivered in your area then you can probably also get sand delivered. Lowe’s and Home Depot also sell it by the bag, but it’s more affordable to get it delivered
  • Cost – $15 – $40 for a square yard, that’s a 27′ x 27′ area that’s filled 12” deep

Pea Gravel For Playground Ground Cover

Pea gravel is small, smooth round stones of various colors. With no sharp or jagged corners, this is one of the best choices for your playground cover. Pea gravel usually comes in a lighter color which doesn’t get too hot on summer days like darker materials can. It’s sanitary and provides great cushion and shock absorbency. Pea gravel has remained a top choice for playground ground cover for decades because of its durability and surprising shock absorption against falls.

  • Safety – Very safe
  • Lifespan – 10 – 50 years. You may have to rake it back into your playground area periodically.
  • Appearance – Pleasing to the eye and will look great in any yard
  • Availability – Readily available in most areas all year around
  • Cost – $25 – $35 for a square yard, that’s a 27′ x 27′ area that filled 12” deep

Rubber Mat (Playground Tiles) For Playground Ground Cover

Sometimes called Rubber playground tiles or Rubber playground mats – are thick rubber “tiles” made of recycled rubber that usually come in a 2′ x 2′ section in a range of thicknesses. They are best used on a hard flat surface as they interlock together. Perfect for indoor play areas and concrete or paved surfaces.

  • Safety – Very safe
  • Lifespan – 12 – 15 years
  • Appearance – They come in a variety of colors but keep in mind the lighter colors will show stains eventually.
  • Availability – Readily available at Lowe’s or Home Depot or you can order online
  • Cost – Prices vary, but usually $20 – $30 for a 2′ x 2′ interlocking tile

Other Things to Consider, and DIY

Of the 5 ground cover options I listed, all are safe and easy to obtain.

If you have a pickup truck and or trailer you can get the wood mulches yourself from a landscaping company in your area. If you don’t have a way to haul the material yourself, having them delivered is very affordable.

As for the wood chips, try calling different tree service companies in your area to get some for free.

The pea gravel and playground sand are much heavier and may require a truck to deliver it to your house, but delivery is usually very affordable.

The expensive part is if you get a company to install the material.

If you have it delivered, just get them to dump the material as close as they can to your play area. Usually on the driveway is your best option if your play area is not accessible as the material can easily be scooped up and transferred in a wheel-barrow.

Spreading the material in your new play area is a great way to spend the afternoon with your family and friends.

Getting children involved in the project instills good vales early on and will give everyone a great feeling of accomplishment and unity working towards a common goal.

The rubber mulch option is getting more and more popular because of its exquisite springiness and long-lasting durability, but just remember that one day you may have to manually take it back up.

Like I mentioned above you can get a large sack of the rubber mulch at Lowe’s or Home Depot that will cover a 154′ x 154′ area 3” deep. The National Safety Council recommends a 3” – 6” depth for this material.

The rubber playground tiles are your best option if your playground area will be on a hard surface or inside, as they are unbeatable in terms of springiness and being able to cushion against hard impacts.

I hope this information has helped you in making a decision, thank you and have fun!

Related Questions

What is the best ground cover to put under a swing?


  • Rubber Mulch
  • Playground Mulch (EWF)

What is better, wood mulch or rubber mulch?


Playground safety, equipment, and ground cover expert. I strive to give you the most informative, unbiased, and helpful information available on anything and everything playgrounds.
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