Q. I have a question about artificial lawns. I’m thinking about putting one in. I like the look of a green lawn in front of my home, but I’m looking for ways to cut down on my water use.
I’ve heard good and bad things about them. From an environmental view, are they a good choice?
A.C., Los Gatos
A.: There are pros and cons to switching to artificial turf, so you’ll need to weigh them and decide.
On the plus side, synthetic lawns look nice, you don’t have to water them and because they don’t grow, you don’t have to mow them, which means you aren’t adding to the air and noise pollution that often comes with lawn equipment.
That doesn’t mean they are maintenance free. You need to keep them clean, usually by hosing them down. They absorb heat more than live grasses do, so they can become quite hot and can raise the temperature outside your home. To cool them, you’ll again need to use the hose.
It depends on the manufacturer, but some artificial lawns are made with toxic chemicals, which can run off into drains during rainstorms or when you’re hosing them off. Fortunately, the manufacturing process has changed over the years so the risk is lower than it once was, and people who endorse the faux lawns point out that a lot of people are using weed killers and fertilizers on their lawns that cause just as much concern, if not more, than their fake lawns.
One advantage to having a real lawn is that it’s a living plant that takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, lowering your carbon foot print.
Another concern about the artificial lawns is that they don’t last forever, and when they are torn out, they end up in the landfill where they degrade very slowly. Faux lawns are not wildlife friendly as they provide no habitat for microbial life in the soil and no home for worms, which are a food source for birds and other creatures. There are ways, however, to compensate by providing rich habitat in other places in your yard.
There are concerns that the rubber “crumb,” used to give the illusion of soil and a more realistic appearance and feel, is made from recycled rubber tires, which include a lot of unsavory chemicals. A series of cancer diagnoses among soccer players set off alarm bells and spurred an investigation by the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control to see if there was a link between the illnesses and artificial turf, but the study was inconclusive.
Then there’s the matter of cost. While you usually can purchase sod for less than $1 a square foot, synthetic turf can run from $5 to $20 per square foot. The higher priced lawns can last up to 20 years, however.
With everyone concerned about wildfire and protecting their homes, it’s good to know that artificial lawns are not considered a fire hazard nor do they increase the risk of fire reaching your home. They are, however, plastic and will melt at high temperatures, which could cause issues for emergency workers fighting the flames.
Have a gardening question?
Use this form to submit questions. Photos should be mailed separately to [email protected].