Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2008
Regional Report

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This artificial turf is in the garden that won Best of Show at the San Francisco Garden Show.

Is it Real, or is it Astroturf?

One of our sponsors for the Henry's Garden show sells and installs artificial turf. Now, before you jump all over me, I want to say that I am not advocating any particular product, but I do want to tell you that we have encountered some amazing gardens that use artificial turf in the landscape. It seems that the very wealthy are enthusiastically using this turf for volleyball courts, dog runs, putting greens, and even tennis courts.

The County of Sonoma has initiated a program where they will actually pay a homeowner 50 cents per square foot to remove water-guzzling lawns. When you consider that the average turf grass lawn uses a whopping 56,000 gallons of water per year, you can see the attraction of artificial turf, especially if it looks convincingly real. Not to mention that you never, ever need to mow, spray, or fertilize. You can retire your mower for good.

A Wagging Endorsement
I can say from experience that dogs love artificial turf. When Henry's dog, Che, first came in contact with the faux lawn, he sniffed, snorted, and proceeded to roll in ecstasy. Really, I have it on film!

The artificial turf is installed over a complicated drainage bed consisting of gravel, sand, and ground rubber. The rubber gives the turf a natural feel underfoot. This drainage system is perfect for use in dog runs because moisture is wicked away from the surface. There is no odor and no yellow spotting as happens with grass lawns. Artificial turf is currently used in commercial kennels all across the country.

For Heavy-Use Areas
The playing field at Menlo School is entirely made of artificial turf. You know how kids are; they don't pull any punches when it comes to football or baseball. The artificial turf has been in place there for several years and has not faded one bit. It looks just as good as the day it was installed. The blades of "grass" are held up by a top dressing of ground rubber. If it weren't for this final step, the artificial turf would flatten over time.

Perfect under play structures, the soft artificial turf cushions any falls, plus, you will never again have to scrub grass stains out of children's clothing.

I am not a golfer but we visited a putting green installation that had the challenging aspects of a real golf course. There were breaks and little hills imbedded in the foundation that gave the homeowner a perfect place to practice his short game. The green was surrounded by drought-tolerant perennial plants, and the installation was magnificent, at least from my point of view.

The Downsides
There are two main downsides to this product: one is that it does collect and store heat in the summer. One of the locations we went to had a huge installation to replace a turf grass volleyball court. I asked what they did when the weather got too hot. They replied, "We apply water with a hose to cool the surface." This may seem silly, but when you consider that the water they use for cooling is a tiny fraction of what they had been using on the real lawn, it makes more sense. And the water doesn't pool or puddle on the surface, so they can play volleyball immediately after cooling the court.

The second downside is that it's expensive to install; perhaps that's why we only see it at expensive homes. However, when you amortize the cost of installation against the cost in water, fertilizer, chemical sprays, and most importantly, time spent mowing, I am told that artificial turf will pay for itself in about eight years, depending on the size of the installation.

I'm not advocating artificial turf, but there is a real need to save water in the coming decades. If people are going to insist on having that lush, green "lawn" in front of their homes, perhaps it's time to at least consider some alternatives.

The next time you see a gorgeous lawn, bend down and take a closer look; it might just be artificial.

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