The iconic, pristine natural lawn that was once every homeowner’s dream has long since died, as the rising cost of upkeep, landscaping limitations, and the need to be more efficient with water makes it difficult to maintain. Once limited to high-end football and soccer fields, more and more homeowners are replacing their natural grass lawns with artificial or waterless turf.
To get the inside story on this outside improvement, I talked to Vic Watterson, the founder and president of WaterLess Turf, servicing the Southern California area. His crew was installing the Pet Turf System he developed, which enhances your artificial lawn, making it even more inviting for those of us with with outdoor cats and dogs.
We’re not talking about old-fashioned AstroTurf or that fuzzy green indoor-outdoor carpeting. Upon a visual inspection and even a touch test, it resembles real grass to a surprising degree.
The blades come in lengths from ½-inch, for a trim putting green, to just under 2 inches, for a thick lawn you want to take a nap on. It’s multicolored, so it doesn’t look strangely uniform, and each blade ends with a W cut across the top, so it doesn’t have the fake look a straight chop would give.
Artificial lawns are available without these features at a lower price point, but if you really are attached to the look of your real lawn, spending the money to get this very viable replacement may be worth the cost. Just remember, you get what you pay for.
Each of the blades has a tiny spine that helps them pop back up when you step on them. While this is a functionality feature that gives the individual blades longevity, it’s also a nice form feature that mimics natural grass’ ability to bend, compress, and eventually right itself. However, the different styles and blade lengths are designed for different types of traffic, from moderate to heavy, so if you put in a putting green and then decide flag football is more your speed, you’re not going to get the best mileage. Plan ahead and talk to your supplier.
To get actual grass to thrive you have to fertilize, aerate, dethatch, weed, seed, and mow. Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the aesthetic you’re looking for. The maintenance regimen for turf is as simple as buying what you like and keeping the stuff clean. Do this and your artificial lawn can last for decades.
If you get the pet system, or if you don’t but you do have pets, when you wash your turf, you’ll want to use a cleaner like Simple Green instead of just water. It will increase the lifespan and look of your lawn.
WaterLess Turf developed a Pet Turf System that eliminates the possibility of ticks and fleas, makes muddy paw prints impossible, and saves you from having to look at dying patches of yellow grass whenever your pet decides to relieve themselves. This product is so innovative, you don't have to worry about daily maintenance every time your pet goes potty or gets a little dirty. Plus, a deodorizing gravel is included and needs to be reapplied once a year, meaning if you care for your lawn properly, it could last longer than you even own your home!
While there are minor variations depending on your region and your level of outdoor expertise, the costs associate with a living lawn (labor, seeding, watering, fertilizer, mowing, weeding, dethatching, and aeration) add up.
Materials and installation costs for an artificial lawn can range from $6-10 per square foot. The job I saw priced out at around $2,700 total. That sounds like a lot to pay upfront, but when you factor in the long term savings you’ll get as opposed to the constant maintenance costs that a living lawn saddles you with, it becomes a much more sound investment.
When you consider those figures and recall that a waterless lawn made of polyethylene turf could last up to 19 years, it kicks that pricey upfront cost in a fraction of its lifetime. In just over a year, chances are it'll have paid for itself in savings.
Depending on the size, shape, and needs of your property, a good crew could complete this job in about a day. The steps outlined here reflect a job completed by the crew at WaterLess Turf in California.
For this job, the crew was asked to tear out a lawn that had been ruined by dogs and replace it with the Pet Turf system. The whole operation took about seven hours, including time for lunch.
Step 1 - Demo and Rough Grading
First, the old lawn was removed, along with about 3 inches of excavated earth. This all got dumped in front of the house and picked up later.
Then, all newly exposed concrete and mortar edges were cleaned up so that everything would fit in nicely later. They also added edging as needed to hold the bed in place and divide the lawn from the rest of the yard.
Finally, they sprayed weed killer on the fresh soil.
Step 2 - Laying the Gravel Bed
Gravel was dumped into the newly cleared area and was spread out evenly. Since this specific install had household animals in mind, deodorizing gravel was mixed in at this stage as well.
Once the gravel was down, had to be compacted to about 2 inches. This is where the grading was finalized, so water and other liquids will always be channeled safely away from the house.
Step 3 - Weed and Water Abatement
The gravel bed was then covered with a landscaping membrane. Taking the dogs into account, a dimpled plastic sheet (similar to what you’d find below grade to wrap a foundation) was used to improve drainage and aeration, as well as to further block any weeds.
Step 4 - Laying the Turf
While the steps so far could be considered a do-it-yourself job, laying the turf requires precision and knowledge that is usually better left to the pros.
Step 5 - Securing the Seams
The turf was rolled out like thick carpet and was cut to the contours of the space. The professionals then forced it down around the perimeter and secured it with long staple nails. Any seams were also secured with the staples.
If installed correctly, the whole fastening system becomes invisible.
Step 6 - Adding Filler
If you’ve been up close to grass like this on a sports field you may have felt the artificial gravel filler that provides cushion and holds the blades upright. Made from recycled rubber, that material only works well in sporting or playground setting since it breaks down and needs regular replacement.
For the average homeowner, an antimicrobial silica sand is used. In this case, because of the pets, an equal amount of biodegradable deodorizing sand was added. The silica sand lasts forever, and as previously stated, the deodorizer can remain in place for a full year.
Step 7 - Brushing It Up
Once all the materials were set, the entire lawn is worked with rotating brushes that evenly distribute sand. This makes the blades stand up, giving the lawn an overall healthy and lively look.
The result speaks for itself.