What's better, artificial grass or real grass?

Artificial grass laid out in a beachfront bungalow
By Patricia Moore

Vast improvements in the manufacture and appearance of artificial turf mean the green, green, grass of home, may not be quite what it seems. With shrinking section sizes and the popularity of low-maintenance gardens, the kiwi back yard is undergoing a radical change – one that’s seeing the lawnmower banished and the weekends free to chill out.

Today’s artificial turf is a far cry from products originally produced over 50 years ago for all-weather sports grounds. As Zones Landscaping specialist Nigel Ramsden explains, “There have been great strides in the look and feel of artificial grass and it’s now almost like the real thing. That’s given home owners a lot more confidence to install it in larger and more visible areas of their gardens.”

With pros and cons for both synthetic, and either seeded or rolled-out natural lawns, what do homeowners need to consider? “Think about what it’s to be used for - children playing, pets, or just to add atmosphere to the landscape,” says Nigel. The size of the space is also a consideration, says Zones Landscaping’s Tracey Barker. “Properties like townhouses and apartments have very small outdoor areas and often no access for a lawnmower, so artificial turf is becoming a more popular choice.” Shade cast by tall buildings can also make artificial grass a smart option.

Fake Grass laid out in a townhouse in New Zealand

So, what are the benefits – and what’s the downside?

Matt Cox at Turfgrass Specialists Ltd – Ready lawn, has been rolling out natural lawns for around 12 years. “Landscapers appreciate a good healthy ready-made lawn and homeowners can enjoy instant gratification. A natural lawn is a great way to add value to your investment; demand just keeps growing.” So does the lawn – which is where the downside kicks in. Cutting the grass, watering in summer, cleaning out weeds and moss and clearing up those autumn leaves all take time and effort. And, in wet weather, a soggy lawn may become a no-go zone.

Today’s synthetic turf may look and feel like the real thing but it requires none of the watering, mowing or feeding; effectively it’s low, not no, maintenance, requiring only a clean up with a leaf rake or blower every few weeks to keep the surface in top condition, says Teamturf MD Phil Lewis. Homeowners also have a choice of ‘grass’ lengths and colours and it’s child and pet friendly – even in the wettest winter it’s great to play on.

Family enjoying summer with kids  on turf lawns

How much will it cost?  

“That’s the first question clients ask,” says Phil. “What’s the cost of an artificial lawn versus a natural lawn?” There are a wide range of variables to be considered with both options.  He says with artificial turf these will include the selected turf surface, the size of the area, and site access. “Homeowners need to think from around $100 per sqm from start to finish.”

By comparison, says Matt, the average cost of rolling out the real thing, including installation, can range from around $2000 to $2500 for 50 to 70 m2 of turf. Again there are variables, depending on the type of turf used. “The price includes spraying out existing weeds and grasses, removing and dumping any existing lawn, and base preparation and backfill.” Levelling, applying pre-plant fertiliser and a wetting agent are also included in the cost.

Natural grass can last forever – but what about artificial turf?

Expect anything from 15 to 20 years out of your synthetic lawn. This largely depends on use and care. How durable will the surface need to be? What’s the intended use? It’s also important to check the surface and installation warranties provided. “Warranties differ between manufacturers, but between 5 to 8 years is standard,” says Phil.

What about environmental impacts?

Natural grass absorbs carbon dioxide and acts as a filter for rainwater flowing into the groundwater. It also naturally regenerates. It’s cool on the feet – and it’s hard to beat the smell of a new-mown lawn.

On the other hand, artificial turf, while often manufactured using recycled materials, is a petroleum-based product that is not biodegradable and will ultimately end up in a landfill. It’s heat absorbent and can feel hot to touch. On the plus side, it is permeable.

Lawn covered with synthetic grass offering a rich look

What’s it to be then? Hours of your precious weekend spent behind the lawnmower - or hours kicking back and enjoying the sight of a lush green lawn that never needs cutting?

Opinions are divided: Nigel is finding a growing number of homeowners are after ease of maintenance whereas for Tracey cost is usually the decider.


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