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Thinking of replacing your lawn with artificial turf? Think again!

  • Julie McMillan
  • Tired of pouring water down the drain to try to keep your lawn green? Or do your kids no longer use your lawn for play? Maybe you’ve heard that lawns are not environmentally friendly, and are expensive and time-consuming, requiring constant fertilizing, mowing, and other work. Thinking of replacing your lawn with artificial turf? Think again! Although it may seem like an easy quick fix, artificial turf has many downsides. Plus there are several other options that will work better.

    Artificial turf was first introduced in 1965 at the Houston Astrodome, dubbed “Astroturf,” for use at its indoor stadium. Today there are many reasons to avoid it.

    Artificial turf 

    • removes plants from your garden, eliminating food and habitats for birds and small mammals as well as creatures in your soil
    • is somewhat impervious, preventing leaves and other organic debris from infiltrating into your soil
    • requires a leaf blower for cleaning
    • gets incredibly hot; on an 80 degree day, it can reach 130 degrees or higher
    • can burn sensitive tree roots below its surface
    • may cause air pollution when it heats up
    • may create health risks because it’s made from tires, containing chemicals with carcinogens
    • is expensive, ranging from $8 to $15 per square foot
    • is not weed-free; crab grass and other weeds can grow in it
    • only lasts about ten years
    • will eventually end up in a landfill, where it could take hundreds of years to decompose

    Many other options are better than traditional lawns or artificial turf. They use less water; need less work; are better for the environment; provide rain capture and wildlife habitat; keep temperatures cooler; cost less; last longer; will not end up in a landfill; and can even produce food for your family.

    Before deciding what works best for your garden, think about how you want to use the area. What is your microclimate, exposure, water conservation, soil and drainage? How much time and money do you want to spend on the initial installation as well as ongoing maintenance?

     A couple of excellent lawn alternatives include:

    • Low-Water Grass: If you still want the look and functionality of a lawn, consider a grass that uses a lot less water. Drought-tolerant grasses include Bermudagrass or seashore paspalum.
    • Greensward: You may want a greensward, or a sweep of grass-like plants that provides an acceptable surface for some foot traffic. You may plant a single species, such as an entire surface of blue grama grass or buffalo grass.

    Other design solutions for the previous lawn space:

    • Meadow: Perhaps you’d like a meadow full of interesting wildflowers and swaying grasses to attract butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects. Typically, without trees and shrubs, a natural, informal California meadow includes herbs, perennials, annuals, or bulbs along with grasses and sedges. You may want to include native annual wildflowers for seasonal color, such as California poppies or lupines.
    • Succulent Garden: These are visually striking and don’t require much water. Many succulents have a formal rosette growth pattern that inspires their arrangements in gardens. They are typically found in Mediterranean-climate areas like Marin, and need well-drained soil. Professional designers recommend using fewer different kinds of succulents and repeating more of each type. You might want to include aeonium, agave, aloe, or dudleya.
    • Kitchen Garden: An edible garden produces vegetables, fruits and herbs for your entire family. Although a kitchen garden may require as much water, fertilizer, and time as a lawn, it provides food and is better for the environment. A certain amount of structure helps create an attractive kitchen garden, so you may want to form beds or even use raised boxes. You may want to consider herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuces, kale, pumpkins, green beans, and squash for your kitchen garden.

    To learn more about replacing your lawn, please see http://marinmg.ucanr.edu/Our_Projects/Leaflet/Lawn__use_it_or_lose_it/