ground cover for play structure
February 12, 2014 11:39 AM   Subscribe

What's the best ground cover for underneath a small play structure we're planning on building in our backyard this spring? Any other tips for making a small backyard fun for little kids?

We're planning on putting something similar to this up in our backyard soon. Right now, the ground is just plain dirt (and weeds). We were going to go with grass, but we're in California and the drought this year has me thinking a lawn might not be the best idea, so we're looking at alternatives. I've been trying to research it but I don't love any of the other options. Our two cats sneak into the backyard any chance they get and would use sand as a giant litter box. Bark/wood chips seem uncomfortable to walk on and easy to get stuck in socks and tracked in the house or whatever. The rubber mulch stuff seems like it would get gross and potentially smelly in our 100+ degree summer days. I'm leaning towards pea gravel perhaps, but I'm afraid our cats might still use that as a litter box. Are there other options I'm not considering? Should I just go with grass anyway? Does anyone have any personal opinions or experience on what would be best?

If it matters, we have a small yard. The playset will just barely fit with a little room leftover. It will be used by our very active 4-year-old son and our twin baby boys when they get a little older.

Bonus question: What other small, budget-friendly things can do with or put in our backyard to make it super fun for little kids? (I've tried looking through all the past related questions, but I'm hungry for more!)
posted by logic vs love to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We used bark. It worked fine for us, but then we had a large yard so the barked area was just contained under the playset and the dogs had the rest of the yard to do their thing.
posted by COD at 11:49 AM on February 12, 2014

Not sure about the cats wanting to use it as a litter box, but in my experience (in Texas where it is regularly in the upper 90's & 100's) the rubber/ recycled tires don't really smell or get that hot surprisingly. They are my favorite playground material...
posted by missriss89 at 11:52 AM on February 12, 2014

On a previous question, I saw a mention about a dirt pile. Someone mentioned they had a pile of loam waiting to be used in some landscaping project and they loved it.

It's a mountain, it's mud pie ingredients, etc.
posted by beccaj at 11:53 AM on February 12, 2014

We put down weed barrier fabric and bark mulch. No problems.
posted by plinth at 11:54 AM on February 12, 2014

You can get shredded hardwood mulch, which is finer and seems to stay in place better than the wood chips.

I have some doubts about the safety of rubber mulch.
posted by Ostara at 11:58 AM on February 12, 2014

You can get rubber tiles, though, and these might be better since they don't mix into the soil.
posted by Ostara at 12:00 PM on February 12, 2014

My daughters favorite thing in our garden is my raised tomato bed. It offers wonderful opportunities for 'helping' mom, hands in the dirt, wonderful smelly things and sometimes een tomatoes. We water it with a rain barrel so its low water usage.

If you have room, a 'track' for riding trikes/driving trucks, etc on a harder surface (maybe around the perimeter of your mulched area?) is very nice, even if its just a circle.

Have fun with this project!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 12:14 PM on February 12, 2014

NOT mulch. Mulch is the worst. It sticks on everything. Sticks in your hair. Sticks on your clothes. Sticks on your socks. It even does this thing where it works itself into the elastic of your socks so you're sitting there perfectly still hours later and suddenly BOOM SPLINTER IN YOUR ANKLE HOW DID THAT HAPPEN. It happened because mulch is awful. Fall in mulch face first? Mulch in your eyes. Mulch in your mouth. Mulch in your ears. MUCH EVERYWHERE. God, I'm having traumatic mulch flashbacks here.

It was absolutely the worst. I went to school 4K-12th grade at a place that had a brown mulch playground for the lower schoolers, and somehow that stuff managed to be tracked all over campus so it was inescapable.

I vote for rubber tiles.
posted by phunniemee at 12:32 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mulch works, but you have no idea what might lurk within. We had a scorpion problem at elementary school for weeks after refreshing the playground.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:42 PM on February 12, 2014

We have rubber tiles in California that bake in the sun and its been no problem. We used "cattle mats" from TSC store with great success.
posted by saradarlin at 11:42 PM on February 12, 2014

We did this. We used a wood playground mulch -- basically, wood chips that have been prepared so they're not sharp, etc. It doesn't get tracked into the house (well, any more than anything else in the yard) and it's not uncomfortable to walk on. In fact, it's pretty cushy. This is specifically what we used. It was totally reasonably priced--about a quarter of the price of the rubber stuff--and easy to do ourselves. The only downside is that you have to refresh/replenish it from time to time.
posted by devinemissk at 5:57 PM on February 13, 2014

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