Whether it's a simple swing set or a giant play fort with all the bells and whistles, you must treat children's play sets as part of your landscaping. Safety is the first concern when you are landscaping around a play set. This is closely followed by the durability and maintenance needs of the landscaping. This guide can help you design your landscape around the play area.
Determine the Play Zone
The play zone extends beyond the confines of the actual set. This zone includes the immediate area where children will end up when they shoot off the bottom of the slide or jump from a swing. This is the region that will develop the most wear and tear. Adding 5 feet to the final length of the slide or to the swing when it's at its furthest extension is usually sufficient for gauging an accurate play zone.
Clear the Area
Now that you know the play zone, you want to make sure your landscaping doesn't have any hidden hazards. Skip the plants with thorns, such as roses, in areas near the play zone. Also, make sure there are no toxic plants. Many plants are toxic if ingested, including popular types like rhododendrons. Those with colorful berries or flowers are most likely to attract children, so they should always be avoided.
Be Mindful of Hazards
Plants aren't the only danger in the play zone. Rocks, statuary and retaining walls all increase the changes of bumped heads and injury. Make sure there is nothing hard in any area where a child may jump, and skip any edging or other landscape items that can lead to tripping.
Unless bare ground and mud is part of your landscaping plan, the groundcover beneath the play set is likely your largest concern. Common options are listed below:
Wood mulch. This is a relatively inexpensive option that helps cushion a child's fall. It also needs replenishment annually since it will decompose. Wood mulch also tends to get spread all over the yard by playing children. The mulch can harbor nesting pests, like rodents or insects, and the wood chips can also be a source for splinters.
Rubber mulch or pads. These are a popular choice in schools. Rubber mulch has many of the same benefits and drawbacks of wood, except that it won't break down. This can be a problem if you need to remove it. Rubber pads are a slight improvement, but they can be expensive. They will eventually weather and require replacement.
Sand. Sand is best left in a dedicated sandbox. It is hard to land on, which can cause injury. It also tends to get spread all over the yard. Even worse, a sandy play area is an attractive restroom for the neighborhood cats.
Artificial turf. This is the best option if you want to maintain the look of a grass lawn. The synthetic grass in these turfs looks real. There are special artificial turfs made specifically for play area use. These have built in drainage, so water won't pool on the surface. It's a one-time investment due to the longevity of the turf. Many sets come with replaceable pads that sit under swings at at slide bottoms. These are made for heavier use and they allow you to replace them if they wear out before the rest of the turf. You can find great options from a supplier like Turf Pro Synthetics, LLC.
If you're planning on placing a play set for your children, make sure you follow these landscaping tips to ensure a safe, fun area for your children.