Is artificial grass right for your garden? We explore the pros and cons 

Fake grass may be easy to maintain, but is it good for your garden and visiting wildlife?

If you’re keen for a low-maintenance lawn, perhaps you’ve considered switching to artificial grass. 

You may have noticed your neighbours carpeting their properties with this unmistakable pop of green. In fact, a survey by Aviva discovered that one in 10 homeowners have replaced at least some of their natural lawn with artificial grass.  

Most people who are turning to fake grass aren’t doing it to beat their hay fever. According to 31% of people surveyed, it’s because they don’t want the upkeep of a lawn.  

Garden with black bench and dining table with artificial grassCredit: Carpetright
One in 10 homeowners have installed artificial grass (pictured, Carpetright Downham Artificial Grass)

Cause for concern?

Artificial grass is certainly easier to maintain than a natural lawn, but it sparks debate because of worries about its impact on the natural environment.  

One new housing development in Portsmouth drew mixed reactions when it used artificial grass in every front and back garden. Some people voiced their concerns about the plastic product’s safety for pets and children. 

If you’re sitting on the garden fence and don’t know if artificial grass is right for your garden, we’ll mow through the noise and opinions to get to the core of the matter. What are its benefits, can it be installed safely if you own a pet, and what will the impact be on wildlife visiting your garden? 

What is artificial grass?

A synthetic alternative

Artificial grass (which is also sometimes known by the brand name AstroTurf) is a blend of synthetic materials attached to a backing that is installed on the ground to either create the look of, or replace, a natural lawn. 

The materials used to resemble blades of grass usually include nylon, polypropylene and/or polyethylene. 

“There are several types of artificial grass, which differ in terms of colour, pile, height, density and material,” Sarah Hooper, Carpetright’s grass buyer tells us. “Our range of artificial grasses are made from a mix of polypropylene and polyester, which gives them a realistic, natural shade. 

Small courtyard garden with wicker chair and artificial grassCredit: Carpetright
Carpetright’s Whitby Artificial Grass is made from a mix of polypropylene and polyester

Artificial grass can be laid on any hard surface, provided there is good drainage underneath. The base must also be properly prepared. If you are digging up an existing lawn, you must remove all the natural grass and treat any weeds. Then you compress the soil and lay a wooden perimeter that the rolls of fake grass will attach to.  

How to make artificial grass look as natural as possible 

It’s usually easy to tell fake grass apart from a natural lawn. There is, however, a simple trick that will help make an artificial lawn look more real. 

According to artificial grass supplier Grass Direct, making sure the pile faces in the same direction for every roll of turf should achieve the most attractive result.  

“The best visually-appealing result comes from facing the blades of grass in the direction of your vantage point,” the company says on its website. “For example, for a front garden you would face the blades away from the house and towards the street. For back gardens, the pile is pointed in the direction towards the house, as the vantage point is more commonly from inside the home looking outward.” 

Never try to fit your grass at different angles as this will highlight the join and may cause colour variation between the pieces, the company adds. 

What are the benefits of artificial grass?

It’s ideal if you want to ditch the mower

It’s easy to see why so many people are choosing to install artificial grass. Its quality and appearance have been improving, and it appeals to those who may not be able to regularly maintain a garden. 

“There are many benefits to artificial grass, and the styles available have taken big steps in the last few years,” says Hooper. “Its natural, vibrant and lifelike appearance offers homeowners a cost-effective way to take pride in their outside space, without the hassle of maintaining it.    

Outside dining table and chairs on artificial grass in gardenCredit: Carpetright
Some people install fake lawns in high footfall areas (pictured: House Beautiful Hebden Artificial Grass)

“Whilst it gives a similar underfoot sensation to the real thing, artificial grass is very child and pet friendly. Busy parents [and grandparents] won’t have to worry about any mud and mess after a rainstorm.   

“It’s also a great option for rental properties; where tenants don’t want to spend their time cutting the grass and landlords don’t want to worry about its condition.” 

The RSPCA has used it

Large patches of ground with very high footfall have been covered with fake grass as it benefits the land’s practical and specific use. The Eden Project in Cornwall installed artificial grass on a children’s play area to help manage mess. Meanwhile, the RSPCA covered concrete floors with LazyLawn artificial grass at a number of its rehoming centres. The Derby site installation was to help elderly dogs who were struggling to walk on existing flooring.  

You may consider installing artificial grass if: 

  • You have mobility issues and cannot mow an existing lawn 
  • Want quick, aesthetically-pleasing results 
  • Live in rented accommodation 
  • Want to transform a balcony or roof terrace 
  • Hate getting mud and mess in the house 
  • Are not green-fingered but want to enjoy a lawn 

Is artificial grass safe for pets?

Temperature can be an issue

If you own a pet, introducing plastic to your outside space is likely to cause some concern. The synthetic materials can get warm in the sun, and there’s the issue of animals going to the toilet on this surface. This will inevitably lead to more cleaning jobs.

While there are types of artificial grass on the market that claim to be suitable for pets, it often depends on the type of animal you own. 

guinea pig walks in the fresh air and eating green grassCredit: Shutterstock / Partsey Galyna
Guinea pigs and rabbits have a natural instinct to chew grass

It’s not suitable for certain pets

“We don’t recommend artificial grass for areas accessed by rabbits and guinea pigs,” an RSPCA spokesperson told Exceptional. “Their instinct is to chew grass and it could cause problems if they were to ingest any. They also have delicate feet and AstroTurf-style materials can be quite rough. This may cause discomfort or even lead to sores developing. 

“We don’t recommend artificial grass for areas accessed by rabbits and guinea pigs”

“While we understand that some people with gardens prefer the idea of artificial grass for ease of maintenance, access to green spaces and real grass – whether in your own garden or elsewhere – is important for pets.” 

The RSPCA reminds people that: “In hot weather, artificial grass doesn’t cool as quickly as real grass. This is something to bear in mind if you have pets who like to lie on it. We’d urge those with artificial grass to be cautious and consider what other spaces are available for their pets locally.” 

What’s a good pet-safe artificial grass?

Always check before you buy

If you own a dog or cat, and are thinking about installing artificial grass, it’s essential that you make sure the product you choose is petfriendly. Placing the grass in shaded areas where it won’t heat up as much in the sun is also advisable. 

dog with ball in mouth lying in backyard on artificial grassCredit: Shutterstock / sophiecat
Some types of artificial grass claim to be safe for pets

Presenter and designer Max McMurdo demonstrated one type of fake grass that claims to be safe for dogs on his Channel 4 show Tool Club. 

The episode saw his team renovate an outside play area for dog sanctuary Many Tears Rescue using artificial grass. 

The product’s inclusion stirred up controversy on Twitter. Users claimed the show was irresponsible for using artificial grass when they’d experienced issues with overheating lawns hurting pet’s paws in their own home. 

McMurdo defended the decision, however, saying that the product used on the show was pet- and environmentally-friendly. 

He did however stress that the show’s design brief was “to create a fun, practical open space where dogs felt safe that was easy to maintain and clean”.

He added that the team was “in no way creating a garden.” 

Buy the 38mm grass Max McMurdo used from GrassWarehouse

Ensure contact with real grass away from home

Your pets’ quality of life should be taken into consideration when planning an artificial lawn.  

“It’s really important for so many pets to have access to outdoor green spaces so they can explore. And, in the case of dogs, have a good sniff too. Real grass is likely to have lots of different smells,” the RSPCA points out. “It can also help cats with digestive issues – acting as a natural laxative.” 

Where possible, pet owners may want to leave a patch of natural grass for their furry friends to enjoy and benefit. If you’re growing plants in raised beds or in pots, remember to include dog- and cat-friendly flowers and shrubs that they can enjoy sniffing and chewing (if you’re not too precious about them!). 

How does artificial grass affect the environment?

Fake grass doesn’t absorb as much rain

One of the major concerns about fake grass is that it doesn’t support the natural environment or biodiversity in our back yards.  

One study by King’s College London also found that 50% of rainfall runs off artificial grass, whereas natural grass absorbs almost every drop. This lack of run-off can heighten the risk of flash flooding in urban areas, especially when large areas of land are covered. It might surprise you to learn that the study found the longer (and usually more expensive) fake grass to be even worse at retaining water than shorter, more affordable products.  

wet artificial grass floorCredit: Shutterstock / komkrit Preechachanwate
Artificial grass doesn’t absorb rainfall in the same way as a natural lawn

Consider the carbon cost

John Day, RSPB’s urban land management advisor, also flagged the carbon cost of artificial grass with us. “Plastic grass has to be made, transported, and disposed of, harming the environment at every step of the way,” he says.   

“On a wider scale, it’s bad for people as well. Grass lawns slow the flow of rainfall and can cool temperatures. Plastic lawns increase the risk of flooding and can heat up so much in the summer that they’re unusable.” 

What are the other downsides to fake grass?

Those saying ‘no’ to plastic grass and plants

Professional gardeners have been outspoken in their opposition to artificial grass. The Society of Garden Designers (SGD) launched a campaign called Say ‘No’ to Plastic Grass and Plants. Its aim is to highlight the damage done to wildlife as a result of people installing artificial lawns. 

“It has always surprised me that people who are aware of the damage that plastic bags cause don’t mentally extrapolate this into the impact of covering their garden with plastic grass,” Lynne Marcus, co-chair of SGD, told us.  

View of garden with tree and shed and large sections of grass left to grow long into a meadowCredit: SGD / Acres Wild
Many gardeners want people to leave sections of their natural lawns to grow long

Natural lawns are better for the environment

“While many of us are looking for low-maintenance gardens, particularly in later life, it is an absolute myth that artificial lawns are easier to maintain. There are so many natural, more sustainable alternatives to laying plastic grass in your garden. These include patchwork lawns [which feature low-lying plants among the grass] to camomile and clover lawns.  

“We are all custodians of this wonderful planet. For those of us lucky enough to have access to a private garden, we have a duty to care to enhance it for future generations and to preserve the life within it. That’s the life of your soil and the life of visiting birds and insects to your garden. Real grass and plants are life-enhancing in every sense.”   

For more information on SGD’s campaign, there’s an online leaflet to download from its website.

Mark Gush, head of environmental horticulture at the RHS, which supports the SGD’s campaign, says plastic grass creates a sterile, lifeless area in the garden. He adds that this has been shown to harm earthworms, exacerbate flooding risk and contribute to the heatisland effect. This occurs when fake lawns absorb heat. It also sheds tiny plastic pieces, known as microfibers, which are harmful to the health of animals and people.  

Does artificial grass damage wildlife?

It’s bad news for birds and hedgehogs

Adding plastic products to a natural environment will of course impact the wildlife that may visit or live in a garden. 

Day says that artificial lawns come at a high cost to our local wildlife when it needs our help more than ever.  

Green woodpecker , adult male foraging in grass.Credit: Ben Andrew / rspb-images.com
The green woodpecker forages in natural grass

“Installing an artificial lawn is essentially shrink-wrapping your garden,” he says. “It cuts off sun and water from invertebrates and plants and prevents birds, hedgehogs, and other wildlife from accessing food. You’ll no longer see blackbirds visiting for a breakfast worm, or butterflies foraging on clovers. You might even miss out on a hedgehog snuffling on slugs and snails at night.” 

To protect many species of wildlife visiting our gardens, the RSPCA recommends (if you have space) letting a section of your grass to grow long. This will create a mini meadow that could become a biodiverse habitat for wildlife.   

What are the alternatives to artificial grass?

Replace your lawn with other low-maintenance natural features

When asked for alternatives to a natural lawn, Saga Magazine’s resident gardening columnist Danny Clarke says: “I really can’t believe anyone would consider replacing a lawn with fake turf. 

“It doesn’t provide food for living creatures, creates a large carbon footprint in manufacture and transportation, [and] causes surface run-off after significant rainfall. We need to coexist with wildlife, not repel it, and there are cheaper, labour-saving alternatives.” 

Garden design that uses paving slabs and gravel with low maintenance plants growing between them instead of artifcial grassCredit: SGD / Lynne Marcus
Gravel and paving slabs can be installed alongside planting pockets for wildlife

Create a meadow or build raised beds

Clarke suggests instead of installing artificial grass, gardeners can introduce more shrubs, trees and raised plant beds to outside space. This reduces the amount of surface area covered by a lawn. He also says people can leave sections of their grass to grow long, adding wildflower meadow seeds. These help pollinating insects like butterflies 

Take up all the turf, install as many planting pockets as possible and link these with gravel paths 

Clarke’s final suggestion for people wanting to part ways with their mower permanently is to take up all the turf. Then, install as many planting pockets as possible and link these with gravel paths. 

The final verdict

Is artificial grass right for you?

Passionate environmentalists are unlikely to swap their lawns for artificial grass. People installing fake turf must accept that no matter how sustainable or environmentally friendly a product claims to be, you’re still replacing natural material with plastic.  

But we’ve learned that artificial grass can support people who have practical reasons for not choosing a natural lawn. 

Anyone considering a fake lawn should certainly think of other ways they can protect and encourage wildlife alongside the installation. Whether it’s a raised bed, pots full of pollinating flowers or a section of natural grass left to become a wildflower meadow – there are ways you can achieve a garden that serves both your needs and the needs of surrounding wildlife. 

Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her

Updated:

Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller, i-escape.com, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

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