This is your ultimate, easy to read guide that will help you make the best decision possible when choosing a wood mulch for your playground area.

Whether you’re still on the fence about using wood mulch or you’ve already made up your mind- this guide will help you.

I’ll go over the different types of wood mulch you can use in your playground area, listing the pros and cons of each while looking at several key factors.

  • Traditional Shredded Mulch
  • Wood Chips
  • Bark Mulch
  • EFW (Engineered Wood Fiber) aka playground chips
  • Cedar Mulch
  • Cypress Mulch

Now, let’s look at the pros and cons of each material while considering these key factors

  • Safety – Is this material safe?
  • Longevity – How long will this material last?
  • Appearance – Is this material visually appealing?
  • Cost – How much does this material cost?

Traditional Shredded Mulch

This is the mulch that you are used to seeing in flowerbeds and gardens. Shredded and cut pieces of various kinds of wood. The wood in this mulch is usually a by-product of the lumber and paper industries.

That means that this material is usually scrap-wood that’s now been re-purposed. You can find this mulch in a range of “textures” from coarse to fine.

It’s best to go with a medium size, as too big will not offer great fall protection and be easy to stumble over, and if it’s shredded too fine it will break down and decompose faster. Be sure to get the untreated and undyed mulch.

  • Safety – Relatively safe, the only safety concern is that this product has been known to cause a splinter or two. As long as you get the untreated and undyed mulch you’ll be fine. The National Safety Council recommends a 12” depth
  • Longevity – 5 – 7 years
  • Appearance – Since you’ll be going with the undyed mulch, it can look a little plain compared to other kinds of wood mulch but still has a beautiful natural look that will blend in perfectly
  • Cost – $10 – $60 for 1 square yard, that’s 27′ x 27′ filled 12” deep

Pros

  • Cheap and easily obtainable
  • Heavier than the other wood mulches, so this material will stay put
  • A recycled product. You’re giving this wood another purpose

Cons

  • Often jagged, this wood mulch has the most potential to cause splinters
  • Not alwaysuntreated” even if advertised as so. Since this is usually a recycled product, it can contain trace amounts of inorganic materials from the wood’s “previous life”

Wood Chips

Chopped and ground pieces of natural wood, wood chips make a great playground cover material. Usually smoother and less jagged than traditional shredded mulch, the risk of getting a splinter is significantly less with this material.

Wood chips are lighter in weight than traditional shredded mulch so some of the pieces may float away if your playground area is prone to flooding. For a lot of people, this is a better pick than the shredded mulch because this wood is straight from the tree and you can sometimes get this material for free.

“Local” Wood Chips

Wood chips from different species of trees in your area and readily available for a very low cost or free. Usually a combination of soft and hardwoods, these chips make a great cover material for your playground. Also available in many different kinds of wood from oak to pine.

  • Safety – Very safe, less of a chance to get a splinter than with shredded mulch and is made “straight from the tree”, meaning no recycled or re-purposed wood. The National Safety Council recommends a 12” depth
  • Longevity – 5 – 7 years depending on how much traffic this material sees
  • Appearance – Like any other untreated wood product the color will fade, but it’s always going to have that great natural look
  • Cost – Free – $30 for 1 square yard, that’s 27′ x 27′ filled 12” deep

Pros

  • Cheap and readily available. You can often get this material for free if you’re not picky about the kind of wood you want
  • Many kinds are available. From cypress to cedar to oak and pine, you have a wide variety of woods to choose from. Many suppliers keep several kinds of hard and softwood chips available

Cons

  • Light material. Since wood chips are lighter, some of the pieces can float away if your play area is prone to flooding

Bark Mulch

Chopped and ground pieces of tree bark. Unless specified as “100% bark”, this product will usually include some of the wood that’s located right beneath the bark- which is just fine.

This material is lighter than shredded mulch, so keep that in mind if your play area is prone to flooding as some of the pieces may float away.

Bark mulch is known to decompose slower than wood chips or shredded mulch making it best in terms of longevity.

Bark mulch is available in a variety of colors, depending on what kind of tree it comes from, and the color will usually last much longer than other wood mulches.

  • Safety – Very safe. The National Safety Council recommends a 12” depth
  • Longevity – 8 – 10 years
  • Appearance – As with any natural wood product it looks beautiful and blends perfectly into any yard. Bark mulch tends to be darker in color
  • Cost – $20 – $30 for 1 yard, that’s 27′ x 27′ filled 12” deep

Pros

  • Looks great. It provides a classic, natural look. Bark mulch is usually darker in color than wood chips, and that color will not fade like other wood mulches
  • Lasts longer. Bark mulch decomposes slower than a lot of other wood mulches

Cons

  • Lighter material. If your playground area is prone to flooding some pieces of bark may float away

EWF (Engineered Wood Fiber)

Engineered wood fiber usually consists of hard and/or softwoods that have been ground to a fibrous texture. Smaller than wood chips, this ground “pulp quality” wood is then sorted by strict size specifications.

This material provides the best fall protection out of all of the wood mulches. Many manufacturers use “100% virgin wood“, which means they don’t use wood scraps or recycled wood.

This has become a very popular playground surface material, mainly because of its fall protection.

For a more in-depth took at this cover material check out this article.

  • Safety – Very Safe. Excellent fall protection and almost no chance of getting a splinter from this product. The National Safety Council recommends a 12” depth
  • Longevity – 2 – 3 years
  • Appearance – Provides a natural look at first, but over time the material will start to “break down” becoming basically sawdust
  • Cost – $35 – $55 for 1 square yard, that’s 27′ x 27′ filled 12” deep

Pros

  • Safety. This material has the highest fall rating out of all of the other wood mulches
  • High quality. This product can carry an IPEMA and ASTM certification which holds quality and safety to very high standards. (Please read my article titled “What is Certified Playground Mulch – Clear Explanation” for more information)

Cons

  • Durability. This material, while safe, does not last very long and will start to break down due to it’s “thin” nature, turning to “sawdust” only after a couple of years. And since this material doesn’t decompose like other wood mulches, it can leave a mess behind (especially when it rains a lot).
  • Pricey. This material is usually more expensive than shredded mulch and wood chips

Cedar Mulch

Mulch made from cedar wood is usually more expensive but does offer many added benefits.

Cedar acts as a natural deterrent to termites and other insects and also has a pleasant aroma.

For more in-depth information on using Cedar mulch on your playground, check out my article titled, “Is Cedar Mulch Good for Playgrounds – Cedar Mulch Review

  • Safety – Very Safe with added protection from termites and pests. The National Safety Council recommends a 12” depth
  • Longevity – 7 – 10 + years. Cedar wood has been known for its durability for many centuries and has a natural resistance to decay
  • Appearance – Beautiful deep color, cedar mulch will add to the appearance of any yard
  • Cost – $45 – $65 for 1 square yard, that’s 27′ x 27′ filled 12” deep

Pros

  • Very attractive, cedar wood is a beautiful reddish color
  • Smells great, cedar wood has a very distinct, pleasant aroma
  • Natural insect replant to protect against termites and other pests

Cons

  • Pricey, this material will usually cost more than other wood chips
  • Color fades over time. If you’re getting this material just for the beautiful color, keep in mind that it will eventually fade, probably after 1 – 3 years

Cypress Mulch

Mulch made from the cypress tree has some of the same natural insect repellant qualities as cedar mulch. Cypress mulch also has a beautiful golden and will be an attractive addition to any yard, but this comes at a price. Harvesting of the cypress tree is detrimental to the southern swamplands and ecosystem.

I have written a comprehensive article on cypress mulch, if interested check it out here.

  • Safety – Very Safe with added protection from termites and pests. The National Safety Council recommends a 12” depth
  • Longevity – 7 – 10 + years. Cedar wood has been known for its durability for many centuries and has a natural resistance to decay
  • Appearance – Beautiful deep blonde color, cypress mulch will add to the appearance of any yard
  • Cost – $45 – $65 for 1 square yard, that’s 27′ x 27′ filled 12” deep

Pros

  • Very attractive, cypress wood is a beautiful dark blonde color
  • Natural insect replant to protect against termites and other pests

Cons

  • Pricey, this material will usually cost more than other wood mulch
  • Color fades over time. If you’re getting this material just for the beautiful color, keep in mind that it will eventually fade, probably after 1 – 3 years
  • Harvesting cypress trees is detrimental to the environment and ecosystem

Final Thoughts and Considerations

Deciding on what ground cover material to use for your playground area can be difficult. You don’t want to get the “wrong material” and regret it for years.

I hope this article has helped you in making a good decision.

Just remember that wood mulch is perfectly safe and inexpensive to use in your playground area.

You’ll see many articles that really put wood mulch down as a playground cover material, and they all have one thing in common, they sell rubber mulch or some other cover material.

This is one of the reasons I started this website, to give accurate, clear, and unbiased information. I hope you’ve found that here. Be safe and Have fun!

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