Blog / Garden Tips

The pros and cons of artificial grass

7th June 2019

Sales of artificial turf are booming. Replacing real grass with fake lawns saves time on lawn care, stops children and dogs tracking muddy footprints through your home, and creates a safe, hygienic surface for outdoor play.

But convenience has its downside which includes loss of vital wildlife habitat. Here we take a look at the pros and cons of artificial grass, giving you all the facts so you can make the right decision for you and your family.

Is artificial grass the best choice?

If you choose artificial, there are lots of colours, pile lengths and finishes
Image: red mango

Pros:

  • Hygienic
  • Convenient for animals and kids
  • Low maintenance
  • Tidy, attractive and realistic

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Heats up in hot weather
  • Ends up in landfill
  • Not wildlife-friendly

What is fake grass?

Professionally laid, good quality artificial grass can be difficult to tell from the real deal
Image: Mirko Rosenau

Forget the lurid green grocers’ baize of yesteryear; today’s fake grass is often so lifelike the only way to tell it from the real thing is that it has no bald spots, mossy bits, or weeds – it’s perfect.

Made from a mix of polyethylene, polypropylene, and nylon, fake grass is more than its tufty top layer. To install an artificial lawn, first workers strip off the old turf, then they lay a weed-proof permeable backing membrane before spreading layers of graded aggregate. Finally, fine sand creates a dead level surface on which to finally unroll the grassy top layer.

The result is a stunning-looking lawn that requires no mowing, no weeding and no watering. For busy professionals, parents with young children, or dog-lovers, it’s a hassle-free alternative to the real stuff that’s hard to beat.

Fake grass for dogs

Artificial grass can provide a low maintenance surface for dog-run zones
Image: 10 x 4 Berkshire Dog Run & Kennel from Waltons

Fed up with your dog digging, messing and fouling your lawn? There’s no doubt that our canine friends take a terrible toll on real grass, and therefore it’s no real surprise that artificial grass is very popular for dog-run areas.

Fake grass offers a hygienic solution to the issue of dog messing. In fact some artificial turf systems feature an odour neutralising volcanic ash layer specifically to deal with pet-related smells. As for the germs – remove dry faeces before spraying the area with a disinfectant solution. In warm weather, give your turf a sprinkle with the hose once a week to combat smells.

As for your dogs, as long as you choose a quality product that’s easy on their paws, they won’t be able to tell the difference between real turf and the fake stuff – until they decide to bury a bone.

Fake grass for kids

Artificial grass was used to turn the corner of this garden into an all-year-round play zone
Image: Waltons Honeypot Snug Tower with slide

While we want our kids to run, ride bikes, play football, swing and climb, all that activity plays havoc with grass. If you’re sick of looking out of your kitchen window at the wear and tear your children leave behind – not to mention the mud they traipse into the house when playtime is over, perhaps a fake lawn is for you.

Likewise, if you want to get them out into the garden all year round without resorting to wellies, an area of artificial lawn in front of the trampoline, by the basketball hoop or around their playhouse provides the perfect place to let off steam during wet weekends.

Artificial grass is a great solution for high impact areas – around the base of your swing or climbing frame, for example. Even better, you can use artificial turf to childproof a section of your garden. By installing a “shock pad” layer under the grass, your kids can take a tumble without ending up in A&E.

It’s not (yet) such a problem in the UK, but it’s worth bearing in mind that artificial turf doesn’t dissipate heat like the real stuff does. On hot sunny days, your artificial grass can be as much as twice as warm as the air temperature – in Australia, parents report their children’s shoes falling apart as the glue melts in the heat from artificial grass playing surfaces.

Is fake grass low maintenance?

You’ll need to take care of fallen leaves and brush the pile regularly
Image: Anastasiya Aleksandrenko

Some of us are super busy, while others aren’t as fit and agile as they used to be. In either scenario, having an artificial lawn saves time and requires only a fraction of the regular maintenance a real lawn needs to keep it looking good.

But despite needing less care, fake grass is not maintenance–free. You’ll still have to remove fallen leaves, and treat any weeds that manage to penetrate the sand layer. Regular brushing is also a must for keeping the pile plush.

While installing artificial grass makes sense for many, you do lose the sense of connection with nature that comes with looking after real grass. There’s also evidence which suggests that contact with the soil is actually good for us, with the earth itself resetting our electromagnetic fields, reducing inflammation and helping us to sleep better.

Perhaps the solution is to keep artificial turf for the front garden which many of us never use, while reserving the back yard for getting your hands dirty.

What’s the environmental impact of fake grass?

This garden includes lots of trellis-loving climbing plants to offset the lack of real grass
Image: Gerry Burrows

Those already on the fake grass bandwagon will point you to the fact that, unlike real grass, the pretend stuff requires no weed killer or fertiliser. Nor does it need mowing, which has an environmental impact. But against this argument is the undeniable truth that artificial lawns are made from non-recyclable plastic and sooner or later, end up in landfill.

Add to this debate the fact that your neat-looking patch of perfect fake grass is a desert for wildlife and you’re looking at a serious environmental negative. Our gardens are a rich source of biodiversity for both fauna and flora, and your lawn fills a surprisingly important niche in the ecosystem.

Bees and other insects live in burrows in your grass; spiders hang out there, hunting other insects. Dandelions, daisies and a plethora of other low-growing native plants keep pollinators happy, and at the top of the garden food chain, hedgehogs munch slugs and snails and songbirds swoop to gobble up worms, grubs and insects. We need our lawns.

Is artificial grass expensive?

Artificial grass isn’t just for children’s play areas
Image: SURKED

Compared to the cost of spreading grass seed or laying fresh turf, artificial grass can be expensive. If you employ the services of a professional fitter – which you should if you want a good result – you’re looking at double the cost of the product alone. In terms of price, fake grass is a bit like carpet – it varies in price from cheap, poor quality thatch to pricey but superbly realistic lawn. You get what you pay for.

Perhaps the best way to sum up fake grass is that it’s a useful way to create a space that always looks good, and which requires almost no care to keep it that way. But there’s really no way to beat the feeling of accomplishment that comes with creating your own natural lawn. OK, so it’s not perfect, but you can’t beat the smell of freshly cut grass!

Lead image: Joanne Dale

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