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Pros and Cons of artificial lawns

The use of artificial grass has increased exponentially in the past few years and it is now an accepted part of the New Zealand landscapes in all sorts of applications. But is it right for every client’s needs?Readylawn’s Roger Morgan shares his expertise

Artificial grass comes in a vast range of types, colours, lengths and fibre densities, but the perfect turf for a landscape environment usually comes down to a client’s personal preference.

In my business, I sell both natural and articificial grass. While I admit I am a fan of real grass, I am also the first to accept its limitations and practicalities. They were made clear to me when we installed our first artificial lawn about 15 years ago due to a troublesome situation at a preschool – the dark shady lawn area was more dirt than grass and, despite constant attention, couldn’t grow natural grass. The artificial grass was perfect for the environment, and is still there today, albeit looking a little worse for wear.

Since then, supplying artificial turf has become a major part of our business and its use more prevalent in landscaping projects around the country. My team has completed some magnificent artificial turf projects, and also marvelled at some wonderful creations with artificial turf by colleagues in the landscape industry.

Likewise, we’ve been astounded by some very poor outcomes. For example, there’s a corner section house I pass regularly in a new subdivision with its entire front yard in artificial turf. Quite honestly, it looks horrendous – the grass doesn’t look natural, it’s the wrong colour, and despite

a good quality install, it looks wrong. I’m sure the client is pleased not to have to mow and maintain a natural lawn, but it really looks bad and, on a hot day, the front yard would easily exceed 50 degrees Celsius. It wouldn’t be fair to include a photo.

So, it makes you think, where should we use artificial turf and where would a natural grass be best? Client and contractor should ponder the following questions:

1.Why are you considering artificial grass?

Generally, the answer is a desire not to maintain a lawn, health/age/lifestyle issues, or just plain ‘can’t be bothered’. All relevant reasons today. The size also comes into question. With sections getting smaller, having a 20m2 natural lawn to maintain gets impractical. Artificial turf is a good option here. Likewise, on a large section with a 200m2

lawn the cost of artificial grass would be very costly, potentially over $30,000.

2. It’s better for the environment. But is it?

Artificial grass is made in factories from petroleum products and despite promises and well-promoted statements from some suppliers about its ability to be recycled, it mostly ends up in a landfill, where it breaks down into environmentally damaging micro particles of plastic over many hundreds, if not thousands of years. Over to you to challenge a supplier who promotes recycling as a benefit to also define the cost.

Natural turf, just by its action of being alive, takes moisture

and atmospheric carbon dioxide and converts it to oxygen. A thick healthy 250m2 lawn can produce enough oxygen for a family of four. It can absorb rain, dust and dirt, home a variety of living organisms and its biology can breakdown toxins and pollutants.

The ‘pro’ environmental argument for artificial turf relates to ground water contamination from fertilisers, the environmental impact of mowers, the need for irrigation, and the use of pesticides and herbicides. If applied correctly and in just the right amounts, the environmental damage from lawn inputs is negligible. Most environmental issues are due to incorrectly applied products and I see a vast amount of overwatering on the lawns I visit. The debate here could fill a magazine.

3. Artificial turf can get hot.

We’ve recorded temperatures over 68°C on a sunny day and seen it melt when in front of a curved glass window. If kids and pets are around, skin can get burnt, so clients should be warned of the heat potential and even encourage shade structures. Natural grass is a magnificent cooler of the environment. On a hot day, the moisture emitted from the stomata of a grass plant creates a humid layer at ground level, effectively like sweat, cooling the environment.

4. Artificial grass requires less maintenance.

This is its key selling point and reason people want an artificial lawn. But, it’s worth noting that moss, lichens and weeds can grow, and it will stink of pee when pets have been busy. All of these issues can be resolved with the application of moss killers, weed sprays and urine nutrilisers, though this largely nullifies the pesticide argument against natural lawns. If leaves are left on top, they will decay and fester into the turf, and there’s no biology in the artificial turf to naturally breakdown odours.

In public spaces, broken glass, melted crayons, vomit, cigarette butts and vandalism are a few issues seen by those looking after artificial turf. Most suppliers have minimum maintenance requirements including brooming, sand application and cleaning. So, in reality, an artificial lawn does need maintenance.

In Conclusion

Artificial turf is here to stay, and the choices and quality now available is impressive. Still, I’d recommend questioning the motive for using it and consider if it’s truly the best solution for the landscape challenge at hand. Make sure to explain all the pros and cons to the client. Many aren’t aware of the disadvantages, especially heat, pet odours and its ability to grow weeds and moss.

Roger Morgan is managing director of Readylawn Industries in Christchurch, which provides turf, landscape contracting services, synthetic and sportsfield construction, and maintenance services. The Readylawn system is franchised with farms around New Zealand.

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