It's the Plants, Darling

Promoting Artificial Turf? Say it Isn’t So!

And over at Gardening Tips n Ideas,
Stuart climbs on the bandwagon and offers a qualified endorsement of
artificial turf as less of a "nuisance" and "hassle" than the real
thing, especially for  people like hay fever sufferers and the
elderly.  So I follow the link he provides to Artificial Grass Ltd in England (of all places) and find:

  • Pictured as a satisfied customer is Prince Charles himself, who
    uses it to cover his garage floor – a benign enough use and hardly an
    endorsement for using it instead of the real thing – you know, outdoors.
  • The claim that their fake turf is "permeable," although its
    purported permeability isn’t quantified, and their suggestion that it
    be installed on top of a concrete or asphalt base throws even more doubt on this claim. (Huh??)
  • And another "huh?" moment:  They recommend "occasional watering" to keep the undersoil from cracking. 
  • And what’s the stuff made of?  Well, the site’s advertising copy doesn’t go near that question.

So all this acceptance – even promotion! – of fake grass by my
gardening and eco-buddies I find to be downright shocking and a little
depressing.  Sure, I read all their qualifiers but still.  Then just yesterday I read "The Perfect Lawn, Mowed and Muted", an editorial rant by the New York Times
against Mayor Bloomberg’s policy (since the 2004 Republican convention)
of refusing permits for demonstrations on Central Park’s 13-acre Great
Lawn, claiming the newly restored lawn is too fragile.  Naturally the Times
is FOR the right to demonstrate and helpfully notes that permits are
routinely given for concerts by the New York Philharmonic and questions
if the policy is intended to protect the lawn or silence dissent.

My reaction?  Gee, if they’d only used AstroLawn, I bet that stuff
would hold up to Woodstock and a March Against the War on the same damn
day and deprive the mayor of his lame excuse to turn down the
protesters’ applications.  But I immediately felt guilty for having
such a heretical thought.

Cloverastilbe_1_1So
all these turf questions have my head swirling with more questions and
"but-buts" than I know how to process.  I don’t even know WHO to rant
against (Prince Charles?), much less exactly what to say.  So I’ll
leave it to our readers to take sides and just suggest, as I’m known to do any and every time someone mentions lawn care, that we need to get over
our notions of perfect lawn and learn to love the imperfect, the
organic, the brown-in-August lawn that’s blooming with good ole
nitrogen-fixing and beneficial-insect-feeding clover.  My own
good-enough lawn gets one slow-release feeding in the fall and a
monthly electric haircut.  I’m sick of the false-choice presented in
the media between bad-bad lawn and its alternatives that leads to this
amazing suggestion that fake is a better choice environmentally.

And for the record, fake lawn does NOTHING for wildlife (either
above or belowground) and probably very little to lessen stormwater
run-off.  Got it?  (Okay, now I’m ranting; I guess I got my mojo back.)

Posted by on March 13, 2007 at 3:28 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
Comments are off for this post

31 responses to “Promoting Artificial Turf? Say it Isn’t So!”

  1. ginger says:

    Fake lawn? Let me be the first, or second, to say that is disgusting!!! If you can’t grow a real lawn, give it up and move to a condo!!!

  2. Colleen says:

    I’d rather have no lawn than a fake one. Susan touched on my biggest issue with it: it does absolutely nothing for soil health. An organically-grown lawn, mowed high, watered infrequently (or even never, as is usually the case with my lawn) and allowed to harbor a few weeds, adds to air quality, biodiversity, and healthy soil. And as far as backyard wildlife is concerned…it just ain’t happening. Can you imagine a robin trying to pull a worm out of this stuff?

  3. Susan… you are freaking me out now. :)

    I’m still in winter and come here to think about gardens… and instead I now have recycled tread-grass on my mind.

    Can’t wait to read about the latest in fake flowers too.

    To round out my morning, I think I’ll surf over to http://www.Astronomy-Rant.com and read about the fake sky painted on somebody’s daughter’s ceiling. :) ( You should see those constellations! )

    If someone wants fake grass, I suppose that’s fine. But it has nothing to do with gardening or lawns as I am interested in them.

    Susan, look at this way: if the world goes for this, it will make your property that much more beautiful.

  4. I ask those who are so quick to condemn if they have any experience with this product ?

    We have only installed 3 faux lawns and have one installation scheduled for this spring so my experience is limited.

    I live and work in an arid climate. We do not receive any rainfall for approximately 9 months out of the year.
    Local government agencies are requesting and in many cases refusing the installation of a natural planted lawn in order to conserve on water usage , but there have been other ecologically provocative arguments made in support of a non living lawn such as the recycled value, reduction in two cycle gas mowers emissions, and more.

    When properly installed a faux lawn is permeable, allowing natural rain water ( when it does ocassionally rain ) to recharge the aquifer.
    ( if anyone is interested in seeing how a permeable synthetic lawn is installed I will be happy to post photos on my blog – we have never installed a synthetic lawn on a concrete base. )

    Synthetic lawns in some peoples view may have nothing to do with gardening as they know it but I ask you to step back and consider its attributes that this product has when used judiciously and in moderation for a particular slice of the population who would benefit from its application.

  5. Stuart says:

    I’m reading your post while nodding mostly in agreement, finding that your points are exactly how I feel about artificial lawn.

    However, what I find you’re missing on this one is that the word ‘lawn’ has become the emphasis instead of the word ‘artificial’.

    The term is actually an oxymoron. If we viewed it as a ‘green paving idea’ I’m sure we would be able to get a better handle on it.

    I got on the bandwagon because I think there are many people out there who may find it a useful product. Those who don’t, like myself, can continue growing grass.

    Get over it – it has its benefits and it’s not supposed to replace lawn with its organic properties.

  6. OK OK OK I get it…. fake lawns are great.

    And this reminds me: I like to grow foxgloves but am concerned with their poisonous attributes so I planted some artificial seeds (which were MUCH EASIER to handle than the real ones) and then waited about 9 days and inserted some artificial seedlings… which are doing GREAT I might add. I don’t have to worry about light and water and temperature. FANTASTIC. They look solid and upright! I’m very optimistic.

    Soon it will be time to move them outdoors where I’ll add some artificial leaves and such. But I pine for next year when I can add the artificial blossoms (they are biennials after all). One can’t rush these things you know.

    Another REAL benefit is that I don’t have to use any pesticides or chemicals of any sort. I am firmly commited to a chemical-free environment for my artificial digitalis!

    And then the BEST PART, I can rinse everything off and start again!

    I’ll post photos on my artificial garden blog… yet to be purchased. I’ll let you know.

  7. Enjoy the spirited discussion, allow me to proudly adjust my codpiece while I note that synthetic/artificial lawns took home the coveted Renegade Gardener Black Spot Award for Worst Gardening Product of the Year, back in 2004.

    They have been marketed in the US since at least 2002, and I’m going to guess they sprung from the artificial putting green industry; those things have been installed for at least 15 years. I see nothing wrong with an avid golfer having one on the property.

    I guess I agree with the blogger pointing out that if your heart is set on lawn and you live in the desert, who are we to judge? Although even that use smacks of this strange idea North American humans have that lawn is requisite. If I lived in the Southwest, I’d go desert and stone and native.
    Why put in a fake lawn where it’s impossible to grow the real thing? Why do Americans HAVE to have lawns?

    Lawn should always serve some utilitarian purpose, such as children’s play, dog lifestyles, volleyball nets, croquet. An aesthetic purpose is also justifiable, sweeping green is a tool in landscape design, though I tend to use lawn as the matte to a painting.

    One red flag though … the statement in the original article, “Accidental gas spillage from filling lawn equipment each year wastes more gas that the Exxon Valdez tanker catastrophe.” Who in the world knows or can prove that? The percentage of “statistics” you read in articles in the media that are flat-out made up by some marketing department intern probably runs about 50 percent. At least I said “probably.”

    The larger view is that these things are already being used for what they are truly intended: yards across America, where homeowners with shade don’t have to bother with shade plantings, and people who don’t want to lift a finger tending a landscape on the weekend can place them on all fours sides of their homes. As people become satisfied with not having to grow a lawn, they are not going to be the least interested in growing shrubs, trees, and perennials, and that’s unfortunate.

  8. Ellis Hollow says:

    I’m not a huge fan of lawns. But I still mow too much. Actually, I don’t mow. I make a weekly pass with the rotary mulch harvester during the growing season.

    Every year, the beds grow a little larger so there’s less to mow, and I add new beds. Still, I have to admit that — aethetics aside — lawns can be a real environmental asset. See: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/lawn/lawncare/benefits.html.

    Here in the usually humid Northeast, lawns do well. Mowing just keeps the land from moving along the successional chain back to forest.

  9. For those who care to keep an open mind
    The Artificial blog link :
    http://deviantdeziner.blogspot.com/

  10. Michelle… I couldn’t comment on your other blog (I’m not a Blogger user and don’t do Google) but wanted to simply say this:

    There is no question that your instalation (on your blog) is beautiful and beautifully done. There is also no question that you know what you are doing. It is a design and construction “success story.”

    Nice job.

    I’m simply not sure that it is a gardening/horticultural story of ANY kind and having a little harmless fun.

    Again, nice job.

  11. Ed Bruske says:

    I say ditch the whole lawn thing and plant lettuce. Until they invent a lawn you can eat, I’m stickin’ with my edible landscape.

  12. Peter Hoh says:

    Picking up on the Renegade’s rant, I went to wikipedia and learned that the Exxon Valdez spill was somewhere between 11-30 million gallons of crude. I’ll use a middle figure, 20 million gallons. That would be 320 million cups of oil.

    Not the same as gasoline, mind you, but I’m only trying to be a little more precise than the writer who penned the Valdez/lawn mower spillage comparison.

    There are about 100 million households in the United States. Each of those households would have to spill 3.2 cups per year while filling lawn mowers to match the Valdez spill.

    At most, I may have spilled a tablespoon while filling up a mower. To do my part, in matching the Valdez spill, I would have to spill a tablespoon of gas each time I filled the mower, and I’d have to fill the mower 51 times. At most, I fill the mower 20 times a year, and I know I don’t spill each time. So, are any of you doing your part to make up for my lack of spillage?

  13. I’m not counting and only playing devils advocate , but if you take into consideration the commercial mowing services , and I’m not sure if they were included in the original estimate, I would wager that many spill a lot more than a tablespoon per fill.

    Personally I use an electric lawn mower so I never get to spill gasoline on my clover, dandelion, wildflower, crabgrass 12 x 20 foot green spot.

  14. Mel Rimmer says:

    I agree with the commenter who said that it’s not the “artificial” but the “lawn” part that’s the problem. You don’t need a lawn. Lawns don’t grow in your area? You don’t have time to maintain a lawn? So grow something else. You want to concrete or ashphalt your yard? Go ahead. You can even paint it green if you like (paint a sprinkling of daisies as well for verisimilitude). But stop kidding yourself, and lose the whole preconception that you must have lawn.

  15. The commercial mowing services can only mow the already mentioned 100 million households in the United States. Of those how many really have lawns? There must be some New York City households in that 100 million figure. That means it may take more than 3.2 cups per household per year with a lawn to reach the Valdez figure.

    Can a commercial mowing service guy spill more than a tablespoon of gas on a fillup? You bet ya. Can he do it twice. Not if I am around.

    To spill more than 3.2 cups of gas per client per year. Not gonna happen. Next, you are unemployed.

  16. Peter Hoh says:

    The point is, comparing lawn mower spillage to the Valdez spill is silly. Renegade is correct in noting that we need to be wary of these sorts of statistical claims.

    As to the exact amount of gas wasted in lawn mower spills, well, God only knows.

    Yeah, I figured that the 100 million households don’t all have lawns. Those that don’t have lawns probably make up for the golf courses that need to be mowed.

    Golf courses, cemetaries, athletic fields, highway right-of-ways, and common areas covered by grass (such as on school campuses) are not going to be covered in artificial turf, anyway.

    Finally, the environmental impact of 10 or 20 million gallons of gas lost to evaporation across the U.S. can’t be compared to the environmental impact of 10 to 20 million gallons of crude oil dumped in one location.

  17. Kathleen Wade says:

    Don’t forget, it isn’t just lawnmowers that are the culprits. Add to that the amount of gas spilled while filling up snow blowers, leaf blowers, weed whackers, hedge trimmers, and chain saws. Oh, don’t get me started. I have too many rants against lawn and garden power tools, and not nearly enough time!

  18. Peter Hoh says:

    Seriously, I’m not taking this seriously. Honest. I just want to point out that replacing lawn with artificial turf won’t cut down on the need for snow blowers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, and chain saws. And probably won’t eliminate the need for weed whackers, either.

  19. Like Renegade Gardener, I too am enjoying the spirited debate.

    Peter Hoh pointed out that “Golf courses, cemetaries, athletic fields, highway right-of-ways, and common areas covered by grass (such as on school campuses) are not going to be covered in artificial turf, anyway.”

    That is not the case in the northern California community of Marin County, especially at the athletic playing fields at our public and private schools.
    I don’t have any percentages handy but there has been a high profile movement in my ‘hood to install solar panels on all of the schools and replace the athletic fields with artificial turf.

    From a pruely unscientific visual “drive by sighting” I would say that more than 50 % of our community schools reduced their landscape water comsumption drastically by installing artificial turf.

    Money has always been a great persuader.
    In Marin it is not uncommon to pay The North Marin Water District $ 800 to $1200.oo dollars per month for your landscape water bill at a modest size residence ( 2600 sq foot house wedged into a slightly larger lot ) .
    Despite Marin’s affluence, this is still a hard bill to swallow each month for many families.

    Can you imagine what it might cost to irrigate a small public playing school field each month ? – Ouch !
    If you were managing the fical account of your struggling school system where would you try to cut out some overly high expenditures ?

    Another reason why I often look towards artificial turf as a cost and energy effective choice is for its safety , ease of traversing and durability factor.

    When properly installed as a playground surface it is far superior to a natural lawn, playground fiber , pea gravel or sand in regards to overall safety .
    ( now would be the time for my shameless plug for my upcoming book with Taunton Press but I’ll spare you – : ~ ).. sorta. )
    High density soft matted artificial turf also makes it a good choice for those with mobility challenges such as the aged, those in a wheelchair or on those who use support devices.

    I wish it was that easy Mel, to simply lose the perception of having a “lawn” altogether and put up a paved parking lot instead.
    But the fact of the matter is, artificial turf is a viable product that has solved some very challenging social, enviromnental, economic and quality of life issues.

    It is not for everybody nor every application but it has its attributes.

    Michelle

  20. Peter Hoh says:

    Michelle,

    I’m glad to stand corrected. Wow, those are some steep water bills you mention.

  21. max says:

    What most people from summer rainfall areas fail to realize is that a lawn is a priori artificial in the rest of the country.

    Of course, all lawns are by definition artificial whatever the local rainfall patterns because they only exist by human intervention — artifice.

  22. CP says:

    We have a very unique situation:

    Our yard is relatively small and has 3 huge torrey pine trees (state preserve). It spans our entire yard and we have little kids who would love to play in the yard. We absolutely love these 100 + yr old trees but nothing seems to grow under it :-(.We heard about the artificial grass and thought we would use it to create a play area for the kids under these trees. Any thoughts/suggestions?? One of our concern is will these artificial stuff release any harmful chemicals?

  23. Let me first lay my cards on the table by saying I own a synthetic turf company. While the industry makes many claims, I think it is becoming accepted that two things are happening.

    1> More and more people are finding that artificial turf is asthetically pleasing.

    2> However good it looks, its never going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

    Artificial Turf has some wonderful attributes in specific climatic conditions. Water saving in arid/desert climates, and in wetter conditions, the product will stand up to destruction. The industry has been driven by the athletic sector, and, quite frankly, provides for the needs of many commuinities as there is an increased demand on a finite resource of athletic playing fields.

    The residential market is staring to boom as the manufacturers decided to develop a product designed with a focus less to be beaten by 300lb linemen, and more on its asthetic look.

    I think the stuff we put in is great. But I love grass, I am a soccer guy and love playing on the perfect piece of lawn. That being said, particularly in California where I live, its almost impossible to keep a perfect piece of turf and actually have people play on it.

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  25. Patricia Taylor says:

    There are emerging health concerns regarding chemicals, including carcinogens, that have been found to be coming from the shredded rubber tires (crumb rubber infill) used as part of many synthetic turf systems and as crumb rubber mulch.

    Late last spring, I brought questions about crumb rubber to a group called EHHI in Connecticut. EHHI funded a small study at a state agency in Connecticut, they did critical analysis of many of the studies available on the material, and they published a report and precautionary comments about the stuff at http://www.ehhi.org/turf.

    EHHI has called for a moratorium on the installation of synthetic turf fields until the rubber and rubber dust used in them can be studied further to assess the level of harm they present to children playing on these fields.

    Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal said in late August that he was going to investigate the labeling practices on bags of rubber mulch. In addition, he wants to use state or private funds to run field-tests on shredded rubber on Connecticut playing fields.

    There is a proposed bill in committee before the NY State Assembly calling for a moratorium, as well.

    I won’t let my son play on artificial turf fields until the shredded rubber is studied more. I hope people will be cautious before they use shredded or crumb rubber infill systems or mulch in their gardens or around their homes until field tests determine the level of hazard presented by these materials.

  26. Josiah says:

    Artificial Grass/Synthectic Grass Save time,money,energy & precious resources Remarkably affordable Lasts years beyond manufacturer’s warranty…..

  27. Danielle says:

    For those think artificial turf is the “GREEN” solution, I doubt that they are aware that for one artificial turf football sized field, the tree planting offset requirements to achieve a 10-year carbon neutral synthetic turf installation was estimated to be 1861 trees. And artificial turf has been documented to be 86.5 degrees hotter than natural turf, and that same field was 37 degrees hotter than asphalt on an 81 degree F day.

    Turfgrass benefits the environment with:

    · Pollution control: Turfgrass traps and removes dust and dirt from the air.

    · Absorbs carbon dioxide: 2500 sq. ft. of lawn absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and releases enough oxygen for a family of four to breathe.

    · Cooling the earth: The front lawns of eight houses have the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning. To put this into perspective, the average home has an a/c with just a three to four ton capacity.

    · Lessens global warming: Natural turf lessens global warming by absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide greenhouse gases.

    There are ways to save water, have a natural grass lawn, and benefit the environment. Homeowners can follow these tips:

    1. Don’t over water your lawn. A hearty rain eliminates the need for watering for up to a week. Grass does not waste water–people waste water by not irrigating efficiently.

    2. Water lawns during the early morning hours when temperatures and wind speed are the lowest. This reduces losses from evaporation.

    3. Don’t allow sprinklers to water your street, driveway or sidewalk. Position them so water lands on the lawn, and not the paved areas.

    4. Install water efficient irrigation devices.

    5. Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly.

    6. Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system and holds soil moisture better than a closely-clipped lawn.

    7. Avoid over fertilizing your lawn. Fertilizer applications increase the need for water. Apply fertilizers which contain slow-release, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen.

  28. Miryeha on Maui says:

    I am FREAKED OUT about this synlawn . IT IS IN MY 4 YEAR OLDs school playground. I want it out !!!

  29. When living in desert terrain an artificial lawn/synthetic grass is the best option.

  30. Most recent generations of artificial turf have underdone strict environmental testing to include lead and mercury. The issue of lead mostly resides in the rubber crumb infill that could be found in older versions of synthetic grass. Now you have the option of various sand infill or none at all.

  31. Look, artificial grass and turf is great for some people but not for others just like everything else in life but I do believe most people do not relaise the benefits of it bth environmentally and for older people for example who sturggle with mowing.

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