How I Moved 3000 Pounds of Mulch, Saved $300, and Lost Three Pounds

Our house came with an extravagant children’s play area. (Extravagant to the point of danger–it is really too large for the space, such that a tot could hit his head on the fence, but that’s a problem beyond the scope of this post.)

It was, when we moved in, reasonably well-covered with rubber mulch. And then our children started playing on it.

Within six months of rough play and, ahem, inadequate maintenance, it was a crazy mess. There were giant holes in the landscape fabric and bare dirt was visible in many places.

Something must be done!

Something must be done!

I was really leery of taking on this project. I didn’t really know what would be involved. What would I find under the mulch? What supplies did I need to fix the problem? What were the giant metal staple-things the kids pulled up? Could I move all that mulch without injuring myself? But there was nothing for it but to get to work. And I had to finish the job as quickly as possible, because it put our backyard playground out of commission and, well, that’s bad!

Now, I HATE rubber mulch. I hate it a lot. It’s gross, and I feel like I have to pick it out of the grass piece by piece because it won’t decompose for like five hundred years, so my first thought was to replace the rubber mulch with actual wood mulch. I thought that the whole project, including mulch, landscape fabric, staples, and tools, would cost a couple hundred dollars, or less, because you can have a virtually infinite amount of wood mulch delivered to your house for $75.

Then I realized two things:

Damn, that's a lot of mulch.

Damn, that’s a lot of mulch. Several cubic yards.

  1. I had a truly massive amount of rubber mulch.
  2. You have to use special playground mulch for playgrounds, and this is really expensive.

So I revised my plan. Fortunately, Grandpa FP taught me that you have to be prepared for anything when you look under or behind. New plan: Keep the nasty rubber mulch, but move all of it so I could replace the landscape fabric bit by bit. I actually opted to spot-replace the landscape fabric rather than pull it all up, for two key reasons:

  1. My garage already had enough landscape fabric, left by previous owners, for a patch job. Probably not enough to replace every bit. And you know how I hate buying things.
  2. As I mentioned, there is a whole lotta mulch. By spot-replacing, I did not have to move it all at once. I could move part, do the fabric, and move it back.
Fabric replacement in progress. I wish I was one of those people who is super-organized with their tools.

Fabric replacement in progress. I wish I was one of those people who is super-organized with their tools. Little Brother was surprisingly helpful with the rubber mallet (both fetching it and banging in the staples).

The latter point was particularly important because I had to essentially sweep up the mulch. After I moved as much as possible with my snow shovel (seemed the best tool for the job), there would be a lot left that needed to be removed from the ground more carefully. So I wanted to get the fabric back down ASAP so I wouldn’t have to keep sweeping the same areas!

Fabric replacement complete. Let the raking begin!

Fabric replacement complete. Let the raking begin!

It would have cost about $300 to get wood playground mulch, so that’s money I saved by keeping what I had. I often make do with non-ideal hand-me-downs in order to keep more money in my bank account. Total cost was about $40: $25 for two boxes of landscape staples (I used a whole lot of these because it seemed like inadequate stapleage was part of why the fabric was coming apart) and $15 for a landscape rake. I used this for finishing the project, but will also find it helpful for doing a better job in the future of maintaining level mulch, to prevent further wear and tear on the fabric.

Ahhh, that's better. Time to get out the broom and dustpan again and sweep the sidewalk...

Ahhh, that’s better. Big Brother is helping level out the mulch. Time to get out the broom and dustpan again and sweep the sidewalk…

With all the exercise of shoveling mulch, I lost three pounds that week as an added bonus!

What projects have you taken on lately? Or what money have you decided NOT to spend?

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

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