As much as you “baby” your landscaping, your highest priority will always be the safety of your children or grandchildren. That’s why you want to be certain the landscaping around your backyard swing set provides a safe place for the kids to play. Since the main danger of swing sets lies in falls from the equipment, it’s important to remember that the material you place underneath the swing set should provide adequate shock absorption.
Unfortunately, grass and dirt are simply not the best materials for this purpose. Mowing and edging of natural grass around a play structure are very difficult and the irrigation system rots the wood. Additionally, environmental conditions can significantly degrade their ability to absorb shock. Since providing the right material underneath play equipment can mean the difference between a bruise and a broken bone, it’s important to understand your options and choose the right one.
Artificial turf can work if you install the appropriate padding underneath. You may prefer the look of artificial turf because it blends with the rest of your grass landscaping, and because there are no messy materials to track into your home. But it’s important to have artificial turf professionally installed with the right amount of padding underneath, or else you risk the possibility of injuries from falls.
Loose-fill materials such as sand, wood chips, or mulch are often the preferred landscaping choice for swing sets. These materials are inexpensive, easy to install, and can be attractive if well designed. However, if you choose sand, you may have to take special measures to ensure sand doesn’t make its way into your home. Teach children to remove their shoes before entering the house, and to wipe their feet thoroughly on the doormat each time.
The main thing to remember with loose-fill materials is that you can’t just dump them out with first planning the project. Consult with an expert to be sure you are laying down the materials in the correct depth. If your sand or mulch is too shallow, it won’t appropriately absorb shock (or help to prevent weeds from growing in the area).
The other thing to remember is erosion. After a while, your materials will need to be refreshed so that they remain at the correct depth and amount. You will also need to install a border of some sort, so that your materials stay in place. Concrete borders are the best long-term option (and children can’t easily break them) but be sure to check swing set clearance first.
Shredded rubber is another loose-fill material that people use in play areas. While it is a shock-absorbing material, we haven’t seen compelling evidence of its environmental safety. Additionally, some people complain that shredded rubber comes with an unpleasant smell. We do not recommend the use of shredded rubber in landscapes or play areas.
One final note on swing set safety: Never install play equipment over a concrete foundation such as a patio. Falls from the equipment could result in serious injury or even death. Be sure to consult the instruction and assembly manual that comes with the swing set regarding the safety zone.