Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Dirt on Artifical Turf

I'm not a fan of artificial turf. Yes, I know this subject is an exhausted one, so I'll keep it short.
Artificial turf in all it's fake plastic glory.

I came out for an arborist consult- the client wanted to know why her tree was significantly defoliated. Prior to coming out I was pretty sure the drought was a main contributor, as it is with most trees this summer. Last year the tree was in great health. Last year she also had artificial turf installed under the established tree leaving no more than a 3-4 foot diameter of soil  (also planted). The canopy (and root zone) of the tree far extends beyond this. Of course water is one of the main issues but more so the carpet of faux turf was stripping the dripline of soil life, inhibiting water percolation to the feeder roots and increasing ground heat. Plus all the prep / compaction / alkaline base rock greatly decreases the soil oxygen levels and changes the pH affecting the tree's ability to uptake nutrients while making the tree fight much harder to survive. I recommended, short of removing the synthetic turf, that she mulch and deep soak the planter weekly supplementing with recycled water from the house. She has since seen new growth. But it pains me to see a valuable and established tree being stressed out for no good reason in a small front yard space not being used, where there could easily be a mass planting of low growing carex providing the same effect. As an arborist I hate seeing already stressed trees get thrown more obstacles- especially when people think they are doing something good.
Carex praegracilis mowed. Image via SM growers.

As it was elegantly and concisely put in a recent Mercury article, "switching to synthetic grass creates waste, raises ground temperatures, deprives wild animals and bugs of habitat, inhibits water percolation into the ground, and deprives the earth of living green blades that pump out oxygen and filter global warming gases." It is the opposite of ecological gardening. If high traffic turf is needed I'd much rather see a low water / native  blend lawn- or simply an existing patch of lawn remain getting by with less water... as most lawns are way over watered to begin with. Of course there are plenty other design options beyond the lawn, but that's for another rant- that most of us know all too well. 

Sweet floppy graceful unmowed Carex pansa.
In closing, my intention here is not to shame those with synthetic turf, but to ask those considering it to really think about the whole picture while aiming toward a closed loop system in the garden. I strongly encourage you, my dear garden friends to research ALL the other options as well as the many cons of synthetic lawn prior to making that very costly decision.