Artificial grass: not always greener!



There are many reasons to consider a synthetic lawn. “California is in a drought!” likely tops the list and the rationale blooms from there: Fake grass won’t develop unsightly brown patches no matter how many times Mr. Foo Foo tinkles on it. It will thrive under the canopy of your large shade tree where no other plants can survive. It can be installed around the perimeter of a swimming pool–splashes of chlorinated or saline water be damned! Best of all, it will look amazing. Amazing like you spend every weekend weeding and mowing and fertilizing–except you won’t have to, for the life of the lawn.




Fake grass pool modern paversSource: Greener Better Lawns



Sounds intriguing, right? A perfect green lawn? Bring it on! Curb appeal can be yours no matter how black your thumb. But not so fast. While there are copious reasons to go faux, there are some equally compelling reasons not to. Here’s what you need to know before you start thinking artificial grass is always greener.



fake-grass-with-stones-2  Source: Greener Better Lawns




Why you might like it: If we’re going to talk pros and cons, to be fair, I should add synthetic grass is a nice alternative when you’re allergic to the real stuff. It reduces the potential of dirt and mud tracked into your home and will appear lush all year long. And, by reducing water use and eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides and mowers, it can seem like a green solution–but more on that later.



Lawn and swimming pool with sand stone borderSource: Greener Better Lawns




The cost: This is a case of you get what you pay for and get ready to pay a lot. The cheap stuff goes for $2-$3 a square foot and will look cheap, whereas quality turf can cost upwards of $7 per square foot. Factor in supplies and labor and artificial turf can run up to $22 per square foot, installed.




modern fake lawn built in bench modern landscapeSource: Unknown



The look: The short, flat, monochromatic faux grass of yesteryear has been replaced with thick, long blades that come complete with built-in “dead” pieces that make it, at least in the high-end varieties, read as very natural.





Longevity: A good synthetic grass is made of polypropylene or polyethylene. Avoid those made of nylon, which can curl and turn crunchy when exposed to the sun.



Synthetic lawn patio modern chairs Source: Lonny





Maintenance: Hey, isn’t it supposed to be maintenance-free? Not exactly. Weeds can grow in areas where dust or dead leaves accumulate. And that claim of never having to water is a bit off the meter. You’ll still need to periodically rinse the faux lawn to remove dust and, if you own animals, this rinsing becomes imperative to remove the stinky (although invisible) scent of urine. The infill or top-dressing will also break down and can require replacement in as few as three years.





The sound: There is an unexpected rustle, underfoot.





Dirtier than dirt: Unlike real grass, synthetic grass doesn’t harbor the helpful microorganisms that break down the bacteria found in bird droppings, animal waste and dust, which means that faux grass can easily become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. (Some sport teams have had to disinfect their Astroturf to prevent athletes from catching MRSA and Staph.)


 Harold Leidner Landscape faux lawn giant chess piecesSource: Harold Leidner Landscape Architects





The scent: There are complaints of unpleasant odors as the plastic grass heats in the sun. Add pets to the mix and you do the olfactory math. Some volcanic ash infills (such as ZeoFill) help absorb the moisture of pet urine, but do nothing regarding the bacteria. You may need an additional product–made by the same company, and, notably, available in a “fresh grass” fragrance–to add good bacteria to break down the urine, and yet another product to disinfect the grass and kill the bad bacteria.




 Margie Grace landscape design fake grass contemporary landscape pod chairsSource: Margie Grace Landscape Design





Feeling hot, hot, hot: Synthetic grass can become dangerously hot in the direct sun. A 2012 study by Penn State sites surface temps reaching up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Other studies have shown the soil 2 inches below the grass registering an additional 20 degrees hotter. When Penn State concludes that athletes should avoid Astroturf during the sun’s peak hours, for their safety, consider your bare feet and/or your pet’s bare paws.




Black pug artificial turn lawnSource: Chenango Contracting




Is it green?: Artificial grass is touted as Eco-friendly, but many brands cannot be recycled and will wind up in the landfill. If you frequently wash your faux lawn to rid it of feces and urine, your water use could actually be greater than with a live lawn. Living grass provides a habitat for the bugs that birds eat, absorbs our carbon monoxide and gives us oxygen. In contrast, there is a real concern that when a petroleum-based product like faux grass is set out in the sun, it can off-gas, raise the ambient temperature and increase the soil temperature, affecting the root system of your surrounding, live, plants.






What are your thoughts? Are you considering faux grass? Or, more to the point, are you STILL considering faux grass?



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