Skip the Artificial Turf: The Value of Native Plants and the Truth About Fake Grass

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For decades Angelenos have maintained an image of the perfect suburban yard. We imagine homes with neatly trimmed hedges, colorful flower beds beneath the windows and a lush, green, well-manicured lawn rolling right up to the front door.

The perpetuation of this image has skewed our sense of natural beauty. Not only is that ideal simply not sustainable in our climate, but in order to achieve it people sometimes turn to what they think is a good alternative: artificial turf. In other words, fake grass.

It needs no water, requires almost no maintenance and is often understood to be eco-friendly because it’s sometimes made from recycled materials. But while artificial turf may seem like a great alternative to traditional lawns in drought-stressed Los Angeles, the very option of a fake lawn distracts from far better sustainable landscapes. If your goal is a truly green lawn, fake grass isn’t actually the way to go.

Why not? Living sustainably means making smart choices to support a thriving local ecosystem, and an important part of this is healthy soil. Living, healthy soil is nurtured by water, first of all, and mulched native and climate-appropriate plants and trees with deep root systems, second. These conditions create diverse communities of microorganisms, none of which are supported when people opt for artificial turf, that essentially, is just as bad as paving over our earth.

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Though it may seem drought-smart, artificial turf has a big negative impact on our watersheds.  Healthy soil with deep root systems absorbs water when it rains that can, depending on its location, recharge our local water supply and even clean our water. In contrast, rainfall on artificial turf creates run-off that pollutes our beaches and rivers and fails to replenish groundwater supplies, while also starving our soil of the life it needs to flourish.

Soil is home to all kinds of fungi and other microorganisms—the basis of all life, including yours. Fake grass is uninhabitable. Butterflies, hummingbirds and our other pollinator friends need nectar from native plants. They’re not attracted to plastic grass, recycled or not. What’s worse, artificial surfaces can get very hot, sometimes hot enough to cause third degree burns. If that sounds unpleasant to you, imagine how the beneficial insects and local birds feel.

Give your home a real green treatment by always choosing climate-resilient landscapes that support a healthy, livable LA. That’s the real meaning of sustainability.

Want to learn how? Ditch the turf and discover the basics of native plant selection and care at one of our Native Plants and Turf Reduction Workshops, or learn to appreciate the particular beauty of native plants and wildlife on a Drought Solutions Tour and Native Plant Walk at our own Coldwater Canyon Park. Check the calendar for dates!

5 comments

  1. Nanci   •  

    I have a question: We’ve done drought tolerant landscaping for the most part all around our house, have a small patch of real grass in the back where the kids run around, kick a ball, etc. We’re building a pool and are putting a natural stone around it, but need something between the stones. It won’t be much space but you need to be able to walk on it and it can’t be smaller rocks because they’ll get into the pool. I was thinking about doing artificial turf there. All around that is more real landscaping. We have an old grapefruit tree, will have much more drought tolerant plantings, etc. Is that turf such a bad thing? If so, do you have a recommendation about something that can be walked on between the stones, won’t take much water or upkeep, won’t get flowers (therefore bees to step on)? Any advice you have would be much appreciated. Again, it’s small spaces between large flagstone.

    • Gwatamelon   •  

      Nancy, go for it. This article greatly exaggerates the negative effects of artificial turf. A little fake grass along a stone path won’t deplete the soil of anything, because it will only be 3′ wide. While there are alternatives, you really can’t go wrong with such a small amount of surface area.

  2. Steve Williams   •  

    thank you! I agree on all points….AND plastic turf (I like to call it what it is) eventually adds more micro-plastics to the ocean…ugh! We have anecdotal evidence of its breakdown from UV and flaking into small pieces eventually washing into storm drains and ocean; scientific studies to measure this are underway.

  3. lcmug.com   •  

    I spent a lot of time to locate something such as
    this

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