Is the grass always greener on the other (artificial) side?
Artificial or Real Turf – we examine the pros and cons
Have you enjoyed the opportunity to see and hear more of the wildlife in your garden lately – in truth, it’s been almost the only upside to lockdown! But it has brought attention to our garden environment, and many people are asking which is better for the environment; artificial or real turf?
The truth is that both have advantages and disadvantages, so let’s review the top strengths and weaknesses of real turf and contrast that with the top strengths and weaknesses of artificial turf and see if we can give a green light to one or other.
Real turf advantages
Lawns of natural grass are actually thousands of individual grass plants growing in close proximity – and together they contribute to environmental health and stability, just like other plants.
Benefit 1: Oxygen Production and Carbon Dioxide Reduction
Green plants, including grasses, take in carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen under photosynthesis.
Not many people appreciate that 1 acre of healthy grass produces enough oxygen each day to meet all the oxygen needs of at least 64 people. Which impressively adds up to our turf area of 400 acres of growing green turf being enough for almost 260K people,
Benefit 2: · Erosion Control and Water Quality Preservation
The root on healthy grass can help hold soil in place and will absorb water, helping reduce surface flooding. It also filters out pollutants from acid rain… whereas mono blocking will simply divert rainfall and can help cause localised flooding when local storm drains get overwhelmed during heavy downpours.
Benefit 3: · Improved Air Quality and Soil Structure
When properly nourished and maintained, natural grass encourages micro-organisms in the soil, which in turn improve the soil’s health and structure.
Benefit 4: · Cooling Effects
Air temperatures over concrete or similar surfaces on sunny days can be hotter than the temperature above natural grass lawns, due to a natural process called transpiration. This is where grass releases moisture when it is hot, through evaporation.
Benefit 5: Sustainability
If you are sowing a new lawn then choose natural grasses that are appropriate to your area and soil type. You can speak to us about varieties that have greater disease resistance or drought resistance. Deep root growth will support healthy, resilient grass, helping reduce erosion. This can be encouraged by less frequent but heavier watering.
Remember to also adjust your mowing height – leaving the grass longer during dry spells – and leaving short clippings on the lawn can also act as a natural fertilizer. See all our lawn tips for more advice
So, what’s the downside to a traditional lawn?
The main challenge is water. Keeping your lawn green can require a lot of brown water, so it’s no bad thing to install a water butt to collect rainwater that can be reused on your garden. But you can also keep your grass length longer and water less often but with more water. That will encourage deeper roots, as we say above.
The next challenge comes in the form of pesticides and herbicides, but these toxic chemicals are optional additions, and organic gardens are now more popular than ever. Meaning that if your grass has a little moss mixed in, the answer is to scarify it in the spring and autumn not add moss killer.
A more surprising attack can sometimes come from those who argue that lawns have a negative impact on bees, as they replace space for flowers. But if you plant lavender or other scented border plants around your lawn then we’re sure the bees will still find plenty to keep them occupied.
What about artificial lawns?
Let’s think again about strengths and weakness.
Benefit 1: Low maintenance
While it is true you don’t need to spend time cutting the grass, or use petrol or electricity to power your mower, artificial turf isn’t totally maintenance-free. In fact, to maintain a good look it needs hosing regularly (potentially using as much metered water as someone who hoses their lawn). And weeds can grow wherever dust accumulates, so artificial grass can still end up with weeds. Not maintenance free then, as your artificial surface still needs to be hosed, cleaned and dusted.
Benefit 2: Cost
If you are seeding or turfing a standard lawn then it can seem cheaper to lay an artificial surface, but this does need to be carefully estimated on a case-by-case basis. An artificial lawn can’t just be laid on top of old turf. It needs to be removed, the ground flattened, an artificial membrane laid and sand added before the artificial grass itself is put down if the investment is to have a reasonable shelf life. So if you’re willing to sow grass seed, and don’t want an instant lawn then depending on the size of your garden it can be less costly to go with natural grass.
It’s also important to think longer term. If you want to modify the layout of your garden in future it will always be relatively simple to dig up an area of turf. However, the cost of reinstating real grass to replace an artificial surface is costly. It will require a quality topsoil layer to be reinstated as well all the labour associated. Then there is the issue of safely disposing of the redundant artificial turf – remember it’s basically ‘plastic’
There’s also the question of disposing of offcuts from the artificial surface. They are generally not biodegradable.
The final verdict
So there we have it with Artificial or Real Turf
In truth, both have their place and the right answer will depend on the area you want to cover. You also need to consider the use you’re going to make children’s football pitch or scented haven for wildlife. And lastly, your ability and enthusiasm to maintain the surface you opt for, and even the local climate conditions.
But let us leave you with a final thought. What about the birds?
If you’ve been enjoying the dawn chorus or evening birdsong from the robins, blackbirds, finches, blue tits, sparrows and other birds that have so enjoyed the quieter cities over the past few months then an artificial surface means no more worms for the blackbirds and no small insects for the sparrows. That’s why one’s an artificial surface and the other is a thriving, living surface.