Is there a difference between playground mulch and regular mulch? Yes! While they are both mulches—a barrier on top of the ground—they are made very differently to get different benefits.
Both types of mulch are listed as appropriate surfacing for playgrounds according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety. It’s important to note that they warn against CCA treated wood (also frequently found in dyed mulches!). CCA is a chemical preservative comprised of chromium, copper and arsenic. Since it’s hard for anyone to tell if the wood is treated with this chemical, it’s important to trust the company making your mulch.
These mulches are made specifically for gardening to provide beauty, keep down weeds, and hold moisture in the soil. For a complete list of mulch benefits, please read “Why should I use mulch?” A well-made mulch is cured—a process that ages the mulch at about 130 degrees for six to eight weeks. This helps ensure the mulch is free of weed seeds, pathogens, and harmful pests. This process also gives the natural mulch a dark brown color, and more readily provide nutrients to your soil at the end of the gardening season.
There are a variety of names playground mulch, including wood chips and tot lot chips, and all share two common things.
They are not cured so don’t break down as quickly as garden mulches. This makes them great for walkways, dog runs, and playgrounds.
The wood is cut differently than a traditional garden mulch—the pieces of wood tend to be relatively shorter and fatter in a wood chips vs longer and thinner in garden mulches.
If cut correctly, a playground mulch can provide greater cushion than a traditional garden mulch. Indeed, tot lot chips are often created with kids in mind:
Will it help cushion any falls? If the wood chips are cut correctly, yes!
Is the surface good to walk on? If the wood is cut correctly, yes.
Does it cause splinters? The tight grain of hardwoods helps prevent splinters.
Is it free of debris and pesticides so that it’s safe if kids put it in their months? The wood should not contain CCA-treated wood. Thus, avoid any wood that is sourced from construction (or demolition) projects!
Do kids get dirty playing on it? No—wood chips are typically made with a clearer wood.
Overall, while you can use either mulch for playgrounds, wood chips are designed specifically for this purpose and so provide a number of unique and important benefits.
We make premium, local gardening products that are designed to increase the health and productivity of our local soils. And, with our focus on sustainable practices, this lets the environment and your garden grow good, together.