The new breeds of fake grass have few of the downsides of artificial lawns of old, and plenty of worthwhile upsides
No longer the fluoro fake of tennis courts or botched, blotchy plastic of a bad backyard, the new breed of artificial turf is worth reconsidering as a viable backyard alternative. Some of you have strong opinions on the worthiness of fake grass – some love it, others hate the very idea of it – so we asked local experts to help clear up some myths and misconceptions to make the choosing easier.
1. It’s environmentally unfriendly
False: Once it’s installed, an artificial turf lawn doesn’t require the maintenance inputs of real lawn; no petrol for lawnmowers, no fertilisers or pesticides – which could create run-off or leach into groundwater – and not nearly the water use in the summer to keep a real lawn green.
Some people like to water their artificial lawn in the summer to cool it down, but Dan Mackay of Ministry of Ground says that this uses nowhere near the volume that a thorough watering would take to keep real grass green in the dry of summer. Plus, Brett Jenkins of Super Turf says that because the permeable surface under artificial turf moderates the flow of water into drains, and doesn’t collapse after heavy rains like soil, it’s a bonus for burdened city stormwater systems.
Most products are made from recycled plastics, and are manufactured to be recyclable at the end of their lifespan (which these days is up to 20 years). Growing real grass had proved difficult in this shady Sydney backyard. Replacing it with synthetic grass means it looks lush and green all year round.
2. It still needs maintenance
False: If you’re lucky enough to live in a wet environment (like most of New Zealand) then the rain will do most of the work of keeping the lawn looking clean and dust-free. You do have to wipe off stains though (that dropped ice-cream cone or glass of red wine), and most manufacturers will have instructions for stain removal and care.
Garth Tipene of Ecolawn likes to groom his lawns with a rake or leaf blower to get rid of large debris. If the lawn is in a heavily shaded area and gets winter mould or moss, he recommends a fast-acting mould killer to tidy up at the start of spring.
The stepping stones leading from this terrace house to the studio out the back have been laid on artificial grass, with recycled sandstone garden edgers from the foundations of the house that used to stand on this site.
Some types of lawn benefit from a vacuum (perhaps best to do this when the neighbours can’t laugh) or brushing the turf to fluff up the fibres, particularly in heavy traffic areas.
Myth 3. Kids don’t like playing on it
False: In fact one of the most common applications for artificial turf is around children’s playground equipment.
Some forms of turf are designed to go over the top of shock pads to buffer kids if they do fall, also made of recycled eco-rubber.
Faux grass also provides an ideal surface for games of soccer, frisbee or cricket in the backyard, and a prickle-free place to lie outside and daydream.
Myth 4: It gets too hot to walk on
False: Mackay warns that, just like concrete or tiles, a lawn can get hot in the hottest part of the day. However, he points out that because the artificial turf is laid on a drainage base, it cools much faster than hard surfaces, so you can walk on it sooner. New research and development is producing high tech non-burn, low temperature yarns with more UV resistance, all of which help to bring down the temperature of turf on a hot day.
Tipene also suggests setting the sprinkler going on a summer day to cool the lawn (and the kids) down for great, mud-free summer play zone
On the other hand, artificial lawns can cope with little or no sunshine, doing fine in low-water, low-light conditions that would kill a growing lawn.
Myth 5. It harbours germs
False: None of our experts had heard of modern turf harbouring bugs, pointing out that this myth might have come from the old days of playing fields with astro-turf and sand. Despite scientific studies dispelling that myth, Mackay says that homeowners do need to take care to clean up. The surface needs to be kept free of leaves, debris and organic matter as, unlike on a natural lawn, they will not be absorbed into the earth as they rot.
“In Australia, it is compulsory to add sanitiser in the spray system for maintaining playing fields in schools and so, but that’s not the case here,” says Jenkins, “residential lawns are not nearly as dense as the ones used for sports fields, so rain does that cleaning job anyway.”
In fact, the surface makes a great dog run, as the lawn cannot be dug up or scratched into messy patches. Obviously excrement needs to be removed as soon as possible, and most installers also recommend that the turf be hosed down to dilute urine and help it dissipate. In non-doggy gardens you can clean every so often with a diluted cleaner such as detergent or sugar soap.
Myth 6. It just looks fake
False: Back in the old days, cheap and shiny artificial turf just looked like green carpet – and fully deserved its bad rap. New technology now delivers myriad shades of green, different lengths and shapes of grass blades, even brown yarns twisted at the bottom of the green grass that resemble the drying older blades of the real thing. For the most realistic look, pick a thatch of around 32 to 40 millimetres that combines several shades of green and has curly brown and gold shades in the base.
7. Cars can’t drive on it
Maybe: Some turfs are not designed for frequent heavy traffic and some are, so it pays to check with your supplier (and be realistic about the number and size of vehicle movements). Tipene says to avoid installing in an area that has turning wheels as the friction would quickly create worn patches.
However, if you hate the look of acres of hard paving or concrete, running turf around paving stones is a way to soften your front landscape. The turf can help to drain water, meaning less run-off to the stormwater drains, or you could combine it with gravel and pebbles or grass pavers for a greener look.