Artificial turf grows up - East Valley Tribune: Home & Garden

Artificial turf grows up

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Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:30 pm

When watching a fantasy film, you suspend disbelief and become part of an impossible happening. High-tech special effects can fool the brain into accepting a whole different reality. When my practiced eye was fooled by the new artificial turf, I knew it had finally come of age.

I am not an easy sell.

When the first "plastic grass" came on the market decades ago, there was no way to suspend disbelief. It was obviously fake. The earlier products denied oxygen and moisture exchange to the soil underneath. It literally smothered to death, losing vital microbe populations. We also found that trees could not survive within the fake grass because the roots died. Water would pool on the surface if the ground underneath wasn't perfectly graded. And then there was the wear and tear of kids and bikes and pets.

Today's artificial turf is a whole different animal. It's made of space-age materials resistant to traffic and extreme UV exposure. The foundation fabric is permeable so water can move straight through and oxygen exchange is free. Colors are more accurate, too, with variations that match every region's specific grass types, so it blends in with the living lawns nearby.

In the West where the land is dry and the climate rainless for much of the year, thirsty grass lawns are rapidly being exchanged for these new products. In this hot, arid region and elsewhere, too, this material expands your landscaping opportunities.

In the past, hot pavement has made it impossible to add turf-grass bands into paving to break it up with a cooler color.

The problem has always been heating of the concrete during the day, which dries out the adjacent soil and burns grass leaves. At night the absorbed heat is radiated back into the soil so these strips of turf never find relief during summer and fall.

The other problem is irrigation. To make grass or any other matlike plant grow in slots, you must ensure that enough water gets to the super-heated roots every day. With so little soil surface for water to flow through, it's not easy. Getting deeper penetration is quite problematic.

Enter the new artificial turf, and a swanky design trend has emerged.

New homes and remodels are featuring patios, walkways and driveways with inset bands of turf in paving. Designers are creating gorgeous patterns of strips and grids and latticework. Now you can do this, too, for more-lush appearances in areas that are paved. This also helps rain penetrate a patio to reach subsoils without runoff.

In areas where Environmental Protection Agency LEEDS regulations require that all drainage remain on site rather than flowing into the storm drain, artificial turf is a perfect solution. When these spaces are filled with fine gravel, it's a maintenance problem keeping all the pebbles in place. If you use artificial turf, there is no maintenance and it looks greener overall.

When turf is used to replace a larger lawn, you save water as well as the cost of watering, mowing, fertilizing and, in some areas, over-seeding the dormant turf. Some water-challenged communities are demanding that artificial turf be used in lieu of living grass on all new construction. Some cities are offering tax credits and rebates for residential artificial-turf projects.

Going green was never easier and more beautiful. Let your imagination run wild, for no matter how hot it gets or how long the drought, your turf will remain perennially green all by itself. If you've longed for those trendy grass strips in your paving but it's too hot to keep them alive in summer, help is on the way.

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