When it comes to your garden, it’s understandable that you only want the best. But how will you choose? Is natural turf better than artificial grass? The Turfonline Team compare and contrast real turf and artificial lawns.

There’s a lot to think about when you are planning a garden makeover. Every element needs to have a function and must also be included in the overall budget. Don’t forget to also think about labour – who will do the work? How long will it take? And what will it all cost?

dog on natural lawn
No artificial turf here. This bulldog is certainly enjoying the lawn. Having natural plants underfoot and all around is believed to improve wellbeing and productivity. So if you work indoors most of the day – try to find somewhere green to sit or walk in during your lunch break.

Here’s what you need to think about when you are deciding if natural turf is better than artificial grass for your garden and lifestyle.

  • What is the cost of installation?
  • How long will the product last?
  • How much maintenance is required?
  • Will it affect the environment?
  • Can you use it all year round?
  • Are there any activities that are not recommended for this surface?
  • Is it pet friendly?

What is the cost of installation?

The price of natural turf is considerably less than the price of artificial grass. So too is the cost of groundworks to prepare for the product.

Natural turf should be laid directly onto soil. Ideally, the soil will be nice and level, but if it’s not, then the grass will adapt. You may just have a few hiccups when it comes to mowing.

Artificial grass on the other hand needs a specially prepared surface. Soil just won’t do. Because it is a manufactured product and therefore cannot adapt you need to be really careful about what lies beneath your artificial lawn. Firstly, the surface MUST be level and completely stone free. It would only take one sharp stone to rip the grass carpet and then the whole thing is ruined. Likewise, if the artificial grass is stretched over an air pocket, it would be very easy to put your foot/stiletto/chair leg/toy through the fabric.

Can you lay artificial grass on to concrete? Yes you can, but you need layers beneath it to help water wick away from the grass and to absorb the impact as you walk across it.

In general, artificial grass is more expensive to install than natural turf – and it’s a lot less forgiving!

How long will the product last?

Properly cared for and in the right conditions, natural turf will last decades. Because it is a living plant, grass can keep on growing. If a blade breaks off, it will grow a new one. If necessary, it’s easy to repair a worn out natural lawn by patching with turf or by overseeding it.

Good quality artificial grass under normal domestic conditions has a life expectancy of around 20 years. After that it cannot be repaired or revived, it needs to be replaced and the “old” lawn disposed of.

How much maintenance is required?

Robotic lawnmowers take all the work out of grass cutting

Many people think that artificial grass is no maintenance. It’s not. To keep it looking fantastic it needs to be brushed several times a year with a stiff broom. Added to that, autumn leaves must be cleared from it and, if you have pets, an occasional wash is needed to manage odours.

Having said that, a natural grass lawn does need regular mowing and feeding.

If you are not a big fan of gardening, but still want a lawn, why not consider a wildflower lawn? or even a sedum lawn? Both are low maintenance but offer lots of environmental benefits too.

How will my new lawn impact on the environment?

Artificial turf is – well – plastic. It is made from oil and other chemicals, and usually imported from countries whose manufacturing processes are not always environmentally friendly. Add to that the miles it travels from the factory to your garden and it has a pretty big carbon footprint before you start.

Now factor in that artificial grass doesn’t support the mini beasts and soil microbes at the base of our food chain. Neither does it produce oxygen in the same way as a natural lawn.

blackbird foraging on a natural lawn
Natural lawns are a source of food for many creatures – including this blackbird who is looking for something to feed his family with.

A natural lawn does have some slight negative effects on the environment – we can’t pretend that lawnmowers don’t use any energy. But it is grown in this country and transported as sensitively as possible. There are also a whole host of environmental benefits associated with a natural lawn, including cooling the environment during a heatwave.

At the time of writing (2019) many local authorities are struggle to recycle artificial grass (because it is too bulky).

Are there any activities not suitable for these surfaces?

A natural lawn can put up with a lot. And, it’s easy to repair if it does get worn out or damaged. With artificial grass you do need to be a bit more thoughtful.

Barbeques – hot coals will melt an artificial grass sward, and there’s no coming back from that!

Sharp objects – snip or rip the fabric of your artificial grass and you’re in a muddle. So DIY jobs, crafts, gardening with tools and similar tasks are best done on the patio or indoors.

Al fresco eating – if you are going to drop sauces, crumbs or morsels of food on your artificial lawn, be ready to sweep up every last bit. Whilst a natural lawn has minibeasts and microbes to help break down and spillages, there is a risk that they’ll stay on the surface of your artificial lawn and just get nasty. The same applies to pet mess.

Is natural turf better than artificial grass?

For the most part – yes! However, if you have a tiny lawn, a very shaded lawn or something like a roof terrace where there is no soil, you may need to consider artificial grass. Please do think carefully about the environmental impact though.

Claims that artificial lawns are damaging wildlife 

What does a natural lawn cost?

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