You can keep weeds out of playground equipment without resorting to chemicals by laying landscape fabric topped by a thick layer of mulch or wood chips when you are planning and constructing a playspace. If weeds do crop up despite your best efforts, you can use natural weed killer sprays and pre-emergent weed controls that kill weeds and protect children from harm.
Whether you’re planning to build a playground space in your backyard or maintaining one where weeds have started to invade, the tips below will help you maintain a safe, clean, weed-free outdoor space for children to enjoy.
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7 Natural Tips for Removing Weeds from a Playground
Use Two Layers of Landscape Fabric
Landscape fabric is an amazing tool for weed suppression. It allows water to reach the soil and drain away, which will keep your playground from becoming a soggy mess (plastic collects water and becomes a breeding ground for insects). It also keeps weed seeds from reaching the soil and prevents any seeds currently present from sprouting.
That said, landscape fabric loses effectiveness when it is ripped or punctured, and playground spaces take a lot of abuse as kids run, fall, and play. For this reason, it’s a good idea to lay down not one but two layers of landscape fabric when planning a playground area. Lay the first layer running north to south and the second layer running east to west for best coverage and durability.
Pour on the Mulch
A thick layer of mulch is essential in a playground. It serves two main purposes and should be applied differently based on the type you’re using. Mulch is great because it:
- Suppresses weed growth, prevents weed seeds from sprouting, and protects landscape fabric underneath.
- Provides a cushion for children using the playground, in the inevitable case of tumbles.
- If you’re using wood chips, plan to layer your mulch 6–10 inches deep.
- If you’re using rubber mulch, plan to layer it 3–5 inches deep.
The deeper the mulch, the better it is at keeping out weeds. At the same time, deep mulch provides more cushion for any children on the playground. If you’re using wood chips for mulch, choose one that is designed for safe use in playspaces.
Other Types of Ground Coverings
There are a variety of different other ground coverings you can use to prevent weeds from growing in a playground.
Rubber mulch is a great eco-friendly solution to use on a playground to prevent weed growth, while also being slip resistant. Most rubber mulch is made from recycled tires, so it’s important to buy a high-quality product that is both metal-free and IPEMA Certified.
Pea gravel are small pebbles the size of peas that can be used to help prevent weeds in a playground. It’s one of the most economical ground covers, but there are a few drawbacks including being hard to fall on and easy for young children to potentially swallow. Broken glass can also easily be hidden in pea gravel so be careful if using in public or neighborhood parks.
Spray Vinegar on Weeds
You may want to avoid using chemical weed killers in a playground area. That doesn’t mean you’re out of options if you want to kill the weeds sprouting up in the playground.
Mix homemade weed killer in a spray bottle. Combine vinegar with a quarter-teaspoon of dish soap for an easy weed spray. Vinegar destroys plant leaves, and the dish soap helps the vinegar adhere where you spray it. Vinegar is also non-toxic to children and pets and washes out of the soil quickly. Spray those weeds and watch them wilt.
Kill Weeds with Boiling Water
Boiling water is another simple, natural way to kill weeds. Boiling water breaks down plant tissues and kills the plant. Just by pouring a kettle full of hot water on weeds, you’ll go a long way toward killing them.
Using water to kill weeds also has the benefit of being environmentally safe and having no odor. The playground should be safe to use a few minutes after the weeds have been doused with boiling water.
Salt is a powerful way to stop weed growth. You can dissolve salt in vinegar or boiling water and use it in your other weed killing methods. Salt will boost the weed-killing effectiveness of these strategies and stop weeds from sprouting up in your playground again.
Even tough weeds can’t sprout in salty soil, and salt present in the soil won’t be harmful to children on the playground. You can effectively turn your playground into a weed-free zone with a little salt.
Care should be taken when using salt because it is so powerful. If water runoff from the playground will affect lawn grass or garden plants, it will kill them. Make sure to use salt only where it won’t spread to areas where you want plants to grow.
Stop Weed Growth with Corn Gluten Meal
Corn Gluten Meal or CGM, is a natural corn product that dries out weed seeds, preventing them from sprouting. It’s non-toxic, safe for use around children, and will keep you from having to deal with unsightly weeds by stopping them in their tracks.
Simply spread the Corn Gluten Meal by hand or with a spreader and allow it to combine with the mulch (no watering necessary). This is a great way to stop those weeds that grow above your landscape fabric, because those usually sprout from weeds and dirt carried into your playground by the wind.
Be Careful When Hand-Weeding
Hand-weeding is the old standby weed killer for a reason—it’s simple and requires no tools except your hands. The thing is, you should be careful when using this method in a playground where you have laid landscape fabric. Ripping up weeds by the root when they are growing through landscape fabric can tear the fabric, creating increased opportunities for weeds to infiltrate.
If the weeds in your playground are growing amongst the mulch above the landscape fabric, feel free to hand-weed them. Anything that has sent roots through the fabric is better sprayed with vinegar or doused in boiling water.
What Can You Spray Weeds with in a Playground?
While commercial weed killers are subjected to federal testing and must be deemed safe before they are released to the market, the impulse for many of us is to avoid spraying chemicals where our children play. There are several alternatives to chemical weed killers on the market.
As mentioned above, a homemade vinegar weed killer is a great bet. There are also several organic weed killers on the market which combine vinegar and salt. Not only that, but fatty-acid based weed killers are natural weed control tools. These weed killers are extracted from sources such as coconut and olive oil and are safe to use in playgrounds.
Is Roundup Safe for Playgrounds?
RoundUp contains Glyphosate, a weed killer that has been extensively tested by the EPA and is found to pose no threat to children. You can feel free to use RoundUp to control weeds on or around a playground. If other methods just aren’t having an impact, don’t feel bad about reaching for the RoundUp.
Is There any Danger Using Preen to Control Weeds on a Playground?
Preen is a pre-emergent weed killer that stops seeds from sprouting. The active ingredient in Preen is trifluralin. It has been shown to be “practically nontoxic” to mammals. However, trifluralin, and by extension, Preen, is toxic to fish, amphibians, and pollinators such as bees. Considering this data, it is probably best to avoid using Preen in playground spaces.
Killing Weeds in Playgrounds
You can kill and prevent weeds in a playground in many ways that are safe for children. It’s best to start any new playground project by laying two layers of landscape fabric and laying a deep bed of mulch (typically twice as deep as what you would use in a garden). If weeds do still invade the playground, you can attack them with natural vinegar sprays, boiling water, or salt. You can also prevent seeds from sprouting in your playground by spreading Corn Gluten Meal—a natural seed inhibitor.