Artificial grass and lawns – need to know

Artificial grass and lawns – need to know

Artificial grass is touted as a low-maintenance, water-efficient alternative to real grass that plays into our collective ideas of what a typical backyard “should” look like. A manicured garden lawn is such a mainstay of the traditional British garden that it is difficult to imagine your outdoor space without it.

However, the aspiration to have a vibrant green garden all year round, coupled with the desire for a low-maintenance garden, means that one in ten UK households have already replaced their real garden with artificial turf, according to research by Aviva. And 29% are thinking about that. But can it be an environmentally friendly option?

Does artificial grass save water?

Many artificial turf companies are keen to emphasize the convenience of fake grass that never needs mowing and the environmental credentials of plastic turf that never needs watering in hot weather that can turn real grass brown. In this country, many gardeners face the challenge of keeping their garden moist throughout the summer as the use of hose pipes becomes increasingly banned.

Meanwhile, in the United States, some states that frequently suffer from water stress are taking it a step further by either banning, or seeking to ban, the use of potable water to water ornamental lawns altogether. It’s not hard to see why the idea of ​​a water-free alternative is so appealing.

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However, the RHS suggests a simple solution to the problem of keeping a real garden watered in summer: don’t do it. “Grass, as a species, is one of the hardiest plants on the planet, and turfgrasses have a natural resistance to drought, so there’s no need to water them – they’ll recover once the rain comes,” explains Mark Gosch, Head of Ecological Horticulture. At RHS. This means you may have to embrace the odd brown spot in very hot weather, but you can give your lawn a helping hand by mowing it less frequently, which leads to a heatwave. “Taller lawns are also better at resisting browning during dry spells than shorter lawns because of their longer roots,” Mark adds.

In 2022, the RHS banned the use of artificial turf in all its shows in a bid to reduce its environmental impact. Like many other experts, Mark believes that real grass is a more environmentally friendly option than artificial ones: “Plastic lawns have a devastating impact on natural habitats and soils, disrupting the delicate balance of ecosystems, stunting plant growth and depriving animals of essential resources.” Conversely, embracing natural, living grass enhances biodiversity, nourishes ecosystems and contributes positively to the environment.”

How does artificial turf affect soil health?

Rachel Bailey points out that when artificial turf is laid, the topsoil is usually stripped away and disposed of – meaning all the organisms in that topsoil are lost. “At a time when we are facing a biodiversity crisis and losing species at an alarming rate, we need to leave that topsoil and leave natural grass or other plants in the garden to promote biodiversity, not seal the soil with plastic.” Says.

Artificial lawns also negatively affect soil health because they limit the supply of air and water to the soil, which as a result affects microorganisms that live in the soil. “Inevitably, if you’re putting what superficially looks like a layer of plastic across the soil, you’re reducing the amount of rain that gets into the soil, so it will dry out,” explains Dr Mick Hanley, associate professor of plant-animal interactions at the university. Plymouth. “In addition, you are putting a cap on gas exchange which will change the chemistry of the soil. This will affect everything from earthworms and slugs to microorganisms and what they can do in the soil.”

How does artificial turf affect wildlife?

Experts at wild plant conservation charity Plantlife add that by creating a barrier on the soil surface, artificial turf also restricts earthworms’ access to the organic matter they feed on – and reducing their food supply will also reduce the earthworm population. Anything that has this kind of negative effect on the organisms living in the soil in your garden is also bad news for other animals in the food web of which these organisms are a part.

The RSPB warns that live meadows are important for ground-feeding birds which use them to forage for food such as caterpillars, insects and worms. Winged visitors to your garden that are likely to be affected include birds that are red-listed as a conservation concern due to declining numbers, such as house sparrows, thrushes and starlings. You will also lose small mammals such as wood voles, shrews and hedgehogs, as well as lizards, frogs and toads, as well as finches and sparrows that feed on the seeds produced by the grass in real grass.

Artificial grass

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Replacing real grass, especially grass that is a little more wild, with artificial grass also prevents access to the soil for burrowing insects, such as bees, and removes plants whose flowers provide food for other insects.

“The little purple trumpets of the queen bumblebee that feeds the ivy emerge from hibernation in early spring,” says Plantlife’s Mark. “Later, dandelions became a vital source of support for many solitary bee species, and buttercups also provided hoverflies. Other species such as cuckoo, red clover, oxy daisy, trefoil, and late-summer yarrow provide a variety of options for pollinators, but they also Food sources for invertebrates, including the larvae of some butterflies and moths.”

Artificial grass

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Can artificial turf cause surface flooding?

Mark also points out another surprising consequence of the decline in the number of earthworms living in the soil as a result of installing artificial turf: it can encourage rainwater to pool in your lawn.

“When earthworm activity decreases, it reduces the amount of organic matter in the soil, which means its texture is less friable,” he explains. “When this happens, the soil becomes more susceptible to compaction and the permeability of the soil decreases. This is the rate at which surface water can seep down through the soil, which means there is an increased risk of surface flooding due to heavy rainfall.”

What is the carbon footprint of artificial turf?

In addition to these environmental concerns, Plant Life estimates that the carbon footprint of producing the plastics used to make enough artificial turf to cover a fairly average sized 60 square meter urban garden would likely amount to the equivalent of about 430 kg of carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon. That’s roughly the same carbon footprint as flying from London to Athens. This does not take into account the equivalent carbon emissions associated with other aspects of its life cycle, such as the manufacturing, shipping, distribution, installation and disposal process at the end of its life. Additionally, natural grass that is mowed infrequently can help capture carbon from the atmosphere.

Some studies also suggest a link between the use of artificial turf and increased levels of microplastic pollution in nearby waterways.

Can artificial grass be recycled?

Some companies are now developing artificial turf made from a single type of plastic, rather than a combination of materials, which the European Artificial Turf Council (ESTC) says is fully recyclable and expects to be more widely available by 2025.

However, to be practically recyclable, there must be recycling facilities to process artificial turf waste at the end of its life. ESTC says these recycling facilities are now starting to open in the UK. It is worth noting that there will still be a carbon footprint associated with the recycling process itself.

What are the benefits of artificial grass?

The pandemic has seen artificial turf companies such as Lazy Lawn experience a surge in inquiries, and while business has remained at a steady level, Andy Driver, Lazy Lawn’s commercial director, says the public’s appetite for the outdoors has not waned: “We have a large elderly population and a large population. “The practical option is to have artificial grass: it is very low maintenance and the older generation can get out and enjoy their space without having to carry a lawnmower. While they may have grass, they will also have plants and shrubs in the garden that they can tend to.”

But if these considerations don’t apply, the collective impact of keeping our lawns real — and better yet, a little on the wild side — will be significant.

“In total, private parks make up more than 1.2 million acres of land in Britain, more than all nature reserves combined, so together they have the potential to provide vital space for wildlife at a time when nature is in crisis and really needs our help.” “The choices you make in your garden can have a real positive impact on nature, when managed with wildlife in mind,” explains Adrian Thomas, RSPB wildlife horticulturist.

What if you find it difficult to grow a real garden?

If there’s an aspect of your garden that makes caring for a healthy-looking lawn a hassle, there are alternatives, says Mark from the RHS: “Low-maintenance options include clover lawns which don’t require mowing or watering and stay green all year round. A shaded garden might consider using turf mixes Shade tolerant, or alternatively plant evergreen shrubs in a layer of bark chips.

Artificial grass

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Meanwhile, Rachel Bailey suggests that rethinking our preconceived notions about garden design can also help: “Adopting a more natural feel in our gardens that is led by the cycle of the seasons, rather than aspiring to have an outdoor space dominated by a bowling green. An ideal garden, it can “It helps us garden more sustainably and is better for the environment. It’s helpful to ask yourself: ‘Do I really want a garden, or do I just want some open space in my garden?’ This can be achieved by planting low-growing plants instead of grass.”

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