What To Put Under A Swing Set: Complete Guide


Now that you have selected the perfect swing set for your backyard, you and your children are likely ripe with anticipation for its installation. Before you begin setting up your swing set, you need to know what to put underneath it to keep your yard intact.

There are a variety of surfaces that will work under a swing set including leveled sod with swing mats (for wear and tear), pea gravel, turf or artificial grass, sand, or mulch made from wood chips, rubber, recycled tires, and more. Each will have different costs, longevity and levels of safety.

Choosing the right surface to put under your swing set can be a difficult choice. There are many options to choose from, and none of them are necessarily “wrong”, but there are some that are far more practical, long-lasting, and safe for your children to play on.

Continue reading for the complete guide to what to put under a swing set.

What Can You Put Under a Swing Set?

You might not have even realized that you need to put something under your swing set, so finding out that you should do so might be a little concerning. But, do not fret. There are many options available that are up to you to decide. Fortunately, these hit at different price points, so the options are not limited to spending way out of your original swing set budget.

For the materials that you can put under a swing set, you can choose between:

  • Leveled sod (grass) with swing mats to protect from wear and tear
  • Pea gravel
  • Turf or artificial grass
  • Sand
  • Mulch made from wood chips, rubber, recycled tires, etc.

It is best to use an enclosure surrounding your swing set to contain the material that you place down.

Each of these options has many different positive and negative sides to them. So, let’s take a closer look at why each of these might be a reasonable (or not reasonable) option for your family’s needs.

Ground TypeProsCons
GrassEasy
May already be in place
Maintenance
Grass will die
TurfEasy to maintainCan be costly
Hard ground
Pea GravelCheapGets in your shoe
Not good for backyards
SandDoubles as a sandboxWeeds will grow
Wood MulchLooks niceNeeds refreshing
Maintenance
Upfront cost
Rubber MulchPreferred option
Easy to maintain
Reduce fall damage
Upfront cost

Grass (Leveled Sod)

One of the seemingly most simple surfaces to place under your swing set is leveled sod. However, this can come with lots of work if your yard is not already leveled. Keep in mind, though, that you will need to level your yard under your swing set regardless of the type of surface you choose as the base.

Check out our How To Level The Ground For A Swing Set article for a step by step guide on the process.

With that in mind, choosing to use the grass under your swing set can have several pros and cons. To begin, let’s look at the pros. Grass is a soft surface that can easily help to keep your children safe should they stumble as they chase their siblings, or if they fall when climbing a rock wall.

Hopefully, accidents will not happen, but as they are common with excitable children, it is best to consider a surface that your children will remain safe on. Plus, if your kids like to jump out of the swing (as so many do), you will want them to have a soft surface to land on. Grass can add that benefit to your swing set’s base.

On another note, many people find that grass under their swing set is an aesthetically pleasing option that does not change the look of their yard into the look of a playground.

When properly maintained, using the grass under your swing set can help to add to the resale value of your home as some potential buyers might find other swing set bases unnecessary for their needs (or simply undesirable). Though, proper maintenance of the grass is key here.

Another benefit of grass is that it will be relatively inexpensive compared to other options- at least at first. Since you will have to level your yard under your swing set anyways, it can make sense to just use the grass that grows beneath.

But, keep in mind that grass will end up having a very high long-term cost compared to a few other options, so you might want to consider that as well.

Grass can have high long-term costs under your swing set because of the maintenance that is required to upkeep it. Not only will you be paying to water the grass and service it, but it could easily wear out and need to be replaced (especially on the path that your children run on it daily).

Along with the cost of maintenance, the maintenance, in general, can be a negative side of using grass under your swing set.

  • Mowing
  • Weeding
  • Fertilizing

All will require lots of work- especially in spots that are relatively difficult to reach like directly under the slide. This is my biggest concern with grass under the swing set, cutting the grass under the slide is a hassle.

On another note, grass is relatively soft and will ensure your children’s safety (to the degree that any surface can), it can become slippery after it has rained- or even just after the morning dew has set. Additionally, wet grass can become rather obtrusive as it sticks to your children’s shoes and is consequently dragged throughout your home.

So, while there are many pros to grass, there are certainly many cons as well. If you are hoping not to “mess up” your lawn long-term, consider other more natural-looking options, or at least use swing mats underneath the swings to prevent wear and tear under your simple A-frame swing set.

Check out these Swing MatsOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon) to get an idea of what they are.

Pea Gravel

Another popular base under a swing set- especially at local playgrounds- is pea gravel. While it is often chosen because it is very inexpensive, it is not the ideal surface under your at-home swing set. If you can choose any other option, we suggest it. Here’s why.

Pea gravel has many negative aspects as a base under a swing set:

  • Firstly, pea gravel is incredibly rough and can cause abrasions in the instance of your child falling or jumping (and using their hands to land).
  • The tiny rocks can somehow manage to finagle their way to the pointiest part when your children land on them leaving your already shocked toddler with large tears rolling down his or her cheeks.
  • Another reason not to use pea gravel is that it is a choking hazard for young children.

Now, while this might not be a concern if you have larger children, you will need to consider supervision at all times if you have young children come and play on your swing set. Although to be fair, this is recommended for safety reasons anyway.

The biggest reason I do not recommend pea gravel is because it gets stuck in my shoe over and over and it drives my crazy every single time.

Because of pea gravel’s size and coloration, many are drawn to it for the more “natural” appeal. Though it obviously does not look like grass, it is not as intrusive in bright coloration or several other aspects that some homeowners find undesirable with other surface options.

But, along with its size and coloration comes the fact that it easily hides dangerous pointy objects or glass in a way that others will not do so much. So, if you have pea gravel, just be sure to do regular inspections for these safety concerns.

Even though it does not meet high safety standards (for children or adults), many people still enjoy this option.

Not only is it inexpensive and relatively attractive (or at least not unattractive), it is easy to maintain. This is one of the reasons it is so common in public parks- but it can also be tempting for at-home swing sets.

So, if pea gravel still sounds like the right choice for you, just be sure to offer supervision for your children at all times, and be aware of the risks before you choose to install it.

Additionally, be sure to enclose the swing set area with some type of bordering so that your children do not drag small pebbles all across your yard and into your home. Something like these Rubber Playground BordersOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon) are a popular options for this.

Turf or Artificial Grass

A more long-lasting option compared to natural grass is to choose an artificial grass or turf product to place under your swing set. This option has many pros, though some people are hesitant about the safety that it can provide. Often, this depends on the type of artificial grass that you choose.

Adding artificial turf can be a lot of upfront work. Here’s a quick video showing the process:

Many people don’t want to go through all that hassle, so they don’t go with artificial turf. You could always check out HomeAdvisor LandscapingOpens in a new tab. to find local professionals in your area to see what it would cost to have it done for you though.

Some of the main reasons that people choose to install artificial grass under their swing set is because:

  • It is one of the longest-lasting surface choices that still helps to keep your lawn looking like a lawn instead of a playground
  • It is natural in appearance and provides the outdoor aesthetic that you had before ever choosing to install a swing set in the first place
  • Additionally, because it is artificial, it will not require upkeep in the same way that your typical lawn would
  • And, most people find that it rarely permits weeds to grow through it once it is installed, though, this is not always true.
  • Even if you do find that weeds are growing through the edges, you can use a weed killer and not worry about it messing with the (artificial) grass itself.

Artificial grass is a great alternative to natural grass in that it provides many of the same features without the upkeep.

However, certain types of turf and artificial grass can be rather coarse and not provide the same softness that natural grass will. This can make tripping or falling rather hazardous as turf burn is not something that most people would wish on their worst enemies.

If you do choose to install artificial grass, be aware that the up-front cost is going to run you higher than traditional sod installation.

But, try to keep in mind that the long-term costs that you will save from maintenance will be incredibly worth the initial investment. Just be sure to read reviews that discuss the feel of the turf before you make the purchase.

Sand

Sand is another natural alternative for creating a base under your swing set. This relatively inexpensive option is quite popular because of:

  • Its low cost
  • Limited maintenance
  • Doubles as a sandbox
  • And softness (for landing when children stumble and fall as they play on the swing set)
  • However, it is probably the messiest option and can be difficult to enclose

There is nothing quite like sand in its ability to stick to everything. Maybe glitter can follow the same type of pattern, but sand is particularly difficult to deal with because it becomes “invisible” dirt that gets everywhere in your house.

It sticks between sweaty crevices behind knee caps, inside of socks, and in the soles of shoes. Then, your children will (knowingly and unknowingly) transport it inside of your home for a lovely, never-ending sand party.

Still, sand is a common option that has been popular for playgrounds and swing sets for many years.

Now, there is sand that is specifically designed for playgrounds that is targeted to be much softer and absorb the shock of landing a little better than regular sand/dirt. But, to get this shock absorption, you will need to be sure to provide a dense layer of sand at a minimum of 9 inches.

Even though sand can easily escape an enclosure, it is still best to surround your playground with some sort of structure to keep sand in its place. Something like these Rubber Playground BordersOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon) are a popular options for this.

Otherwise, the base under your swing set will soon turn your backyard into a full-on beach. You might as well grab an umbrella and a beach towel and get ready for some summer tanning at that point.

  • Regardless, sand is inexpensive and relatively easy to pour into an enclosure
  • You will want to level the ground under your swing set as best as you can at first
  • Place the enclosure or playground border
  • And then fill in the middle with sand.

Just be mindful of the weather conditions when you let your children play in the sand- as wet sand can be an even bigger mess. And mind your step, too, as neighborhood cats might enjoy your “giant litter box” in the backyard.

Wood Mulch

On the less “natural” side of things, but still within the natural elements, wood mulch has become a rather popular option for what to put under your swing set. Whether you make it yourself or buy it from the local store, wooden mulch has many benefits to the base of your swing set and to the appeal it adds to your yard entirely.

There are many benefits to wooden mulch. Primarily, it adds a far superior design element in terms of landscaping. You truly cannot go wrong with this type of base for your swing set in that regard, as there are even options for a variety of wood colors now, too.

However, the coloration on the wood chips will begin to become less vibrant over time. As the UV rays pierce the surface (along with other weather conditions leaving their mark), wood mulch will need to be replenished to have the look you originally brought into your backyard.

This maintenance is relatively minimal considering the mulch will likely cover any weeds, and the area will not have to be maintained much otherwise.

Even though wood mulch looks great, it does have a few practical cons. First, wood mulch will be more expensive than its “natural” counterparts listed above. Though, the maintenance is relatively minimal which provides a long-term cost that is relatively comparable.

Next, wood mulch can become a choking hazard for young children- but, to be fair, so could almost anything that will fit into a small child’s hand. Just be sure to provide close attention as wood is particularly hazardous when it splinters.

Speaking of which, splintering wood mulch is another safety hazard that comes with this type of base for your swing set.

However, there are many new types of wood chips that are specifically designed for playground and swing set use. These are designed to splinter less than typical wood chips which saves your hands and feet from the dangers that would otherwise be present.

One downside that is not often discussed with wood mulch is the negative natural elements that can take residence in the area:

  • Wood can attract varying insects and small animals to burrow into it
  • Which is less ideal for an area that your small children will be playing on top of
  • Additionally, it can attract mold, too, so just be sure to regularly inspect it

All in all, wood mulch is a positive option, it just comes with many considerations. It will soften the blow from a fall, but if it splinters, then this could become a hazard in itself. Be sure to measure the risks and willingness that you have for its upkeep.

Rubber/Vinyl Mulch

If you are considering luxury under your swing set, then you need to consider rubber/vinyl mulch. Interestingly, it is continually rising in popularity.

Though it probably has the highest up-front cost, its longevity will provide a long-term payoff that outranks almost all other options.

  • Additionally, it requires very little upkeep once it is installed, so you will not have to end up paying for too much on that end
  • Since it is a synthetic material, it will cover the base of your yard that you decide to enclose
  • Few weeds will be able to penetrate its surface, so you should not have to worry about yard maintenance with this option.

Here’s a quick video showing the benefits of rubber mulch, the watermelon drop is what sold me on this option.

Rubber mulch can be made from old tires- an option that some people choose to make themselves or buy from a local friend or salesperson.

One hesitancy with this option is the fumes and substances that might be attached or associated with the old tires. If you have small children playing on the swing set, you will not want to have strong tire odors or chemicals around.

On the other side, you can purchase rubber/vinyl mulch that will come relatively odor-free after its installation.

You can choose from a variety of colors to match your landscaping and the swing set of your choice. It provides the highest quality surface that is weather-resistant and provides a cushion to absorb the shock of a fall.

You can find all kinds of Rubber MulchOpens in a new tab. options (link to Amazon) online now, and many are made specifically for swing set safety.

Additionally, though it presents a choking hazard, it is minimal compared to other options considering it cannot splinter and is not sharp. With that said, it is always important to monitor small children for safe play on a swing set or playground- regardless of their age and the surface of the playground floor.

One con to rubber mulch, though, is that it will be one of the most permanent decisions for your backyard.

While the other options are a bit more natural and easier to displace or move, rubber mulch is pretty much only going to be used under a playground. So, you will want to be sure that this is the route you are hoping to go before you make the decision to do so.

Be sure to add an enclosure or some type of boundary for your swing set when using rubber mulch. Though it will not as easily become entrapped in your children’s shoes, it can still spread far and wide and is somewhat difficult to rake back up into the play area. By adding an enclosure, you will help your yard to remain a yard and your swing set area to remain intact.

Here’s a cool video showing someone using the rubber mulch and rubber edge barrier to make a beautiful swing set area in their yard.

Best Ground Cover for Under a Swing Set

Though many people have many different reasons for choosing their respective ground cover for under a swing set, some clearly outrank others in terms of practicality, longevity, and safety.

Parents can choose what meets the needs of their family, home, and backyard without fear of persecution, but there are still some choices to be made with the knowledge of what is out there.

The best ground cover for under a swing set is synthetically made rubber mulch.

  • Though it is not the most environmentally-friendly option
  • It is the longest-lasting option
  • Requires minimal maintenance
  • Enhances the safety of the playground
  • And is overall beneficial to the safety and security of children’s play on a swing set

It is a durable material, so it will stay intact no matter how hard it is played on (or not). Additionally, it is weather repellant and will not be destroyed by a strong rainstorm or too much sunshine. Though it is not the natural look that many people go for when constructing their play area in their yard, it is going to be the top pick for quality and safety.

How Deep Do You Layer the Ground Cover Under a Swing Set?

Regardless of the material you choose for the base of your swing set, you will need to add a sufficient layer to add any value to it. Placing a minimal amount will do you no good as the ground will not be protected, limited safety will have been added, and you will be required to replenish the surface in no time.

You should layer the ground cover under a swing set at least 6 inches deep with 9 inches being the ideal height. Of course, this is assuming the ground is leveled under the swing set in the first place. Adding additional ground covering is always welcomed, but restricting ground covering will take away from the purpose and functionality of the surface you choose.

With that said, it is important that you know how to level the ground under the swing set before you begin applying and filling in the ground covering. As there are many options available (as discussed above) to choose from for the ground under your swing set, you will need to consider your budget as well as the needs of your family, home, and yard.

Visit our How To Level The Ground For A Swing Set article for a step by step guide on the process.

  • Level the ground under the swing set
  • Place 9 inches of ground cover you choose
  • Rake out ground cover to be evenly distributed
  • Maintain ground cover for longevity

While you might not have a large budget to spend on a luxury swing set (and the ground beneath it), you should consider the long-term investment that you are putting towards the structure.

If you are not planning on remaining in the same home for very long, then it is understandable to want to find a more short-term solution. But, if you are here for the long haul (or plan to sell your home and leave the swing set behind), then you will want to consider an up-front investment that will pay off in the long-run.

How Much Mulch Should You Put Under a Swing Set?

The amount of mulch you place under a swing set will be directly correlated to the safety and durability that it provides for your structure. If you skimp out, then you might as well not even apply it in the first place. With that said, there are plenty of options to choose from for ground covering.

When using rubber or wood mulch, be sure to level out the ground first. Use a minimum of 9 inches of mulch to separate the leveled ground from the top of the mulch. Swing set equipment that is 8 ft. tall is recommended to have between 9-12 inches of ground covering beneath it for safety and longevity of the product.

Though, if you are questioning whether you have enough mulch, then you should measure the shallowest end and then feel free to add more. Adding more cushion with the mulch, in this case, will likely only enhance the safety that it provides to the playground area.

So, when in doubt, you can probably just add more and spread it out evenly. With this, you can ensure the safety of your children on the swing set of their dreams.

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Robert Sampson

I'm Robert Sampson and I live in Colorado where I spend a lot of time in the backyard with my family either grilling, playing games and sports, or working on a project to make our backyard a better place to be.

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