Artificial Lawns and Their Long Term Effects
You might think that your artificial lawn is helping your garden or back yard to look green and lush.
But think again...
Many such gardens are not actually "green" at all - and can be very damaging for the urban environment.
What does research say?
Researchers from the University of Sheffield in the UK have said that homeowners should be given financial incentives (such as lower taxes) to keep natural grass and to fill their gardens with flowers and trees, saying that this was more beneficial to the environment and wildlife. Banning environmentally damaging materials including pesticides or having a maximum area that astro turf can cover were other recommendations.
One of the lead researchers, Professor Ross Cameron who is an expert in landscape horticulture at the university, said:
“Gardens account for a third of all our urban areas and are vital spaces in terms of keeping our buildings and city environments cool in summer, absorbing rain to avoid flash flooding and providing an important refuge for wildlife.
Gardens need to be green and full of plants to be beneficial to the local environment, and some types of garden are more beneficial than others.”
He went on to say:
"We have paved over our green spaces to house the automobile or provide sterile patio space, factors that increase urban temperatures and increase flooding risk.”
Why you should think twice before using artificial grass
Unlike the grass itself, the market is growing with so many companies marketing fake grass as a replacement for garden lawns.
1. Artificial grass blocks access to the soil beneath for burrowing insects, such as solitary bees, and the ground above for soil dwellers such as worms, which will be starved of food beneath it.
2. The manufacture of artificial grass emits carbon and uses fossil fuels when the plastic used is produced.
3. The common practice of replacing soil with sand to provide a more stable bed for the fake grass also releases even more CO2 stored in the earth.
4. The artificial grass will shed microplastics, those tiny particles of plastic that have made their way throughout the globe, and are present in our food, water and even the air.
5. There are also growing concerns about the impact of the synthetic chemicals that are added to artificial grass on human health and the environment.
6. It will not provide any of the environmental benefits of grass – like soaking up moisture, home for insects, feeding birds, self-sustaining.
7. And then, the life expectancy of artificial grass is not that long as it gets trampled on and soon looks worn and tired. As it cannot be relaid or reseed, it has to be rolled up, lifted and sent to landfill.
What to plant in place of high maintenance lawns
Create a spring meadow. If you want to have an even bigger impact for wildlife, don't mow your lawn at all in the spring until the middle of summer. Then mow as normal until the grass stops growing late in the fall. This is the kind of meadow where you can plant colourful spring-flowering bulbs in the fall to attract bees and butterflies.
Create a summer meadow. Mow once in late March or early April and then leave it until September before mowing once or twice in the fall. If there has been a wet spring, you might need to mow the lawn into May. This will minimise the risk of a messy untidy looking lawn in mid-summer. Wild flowers in the grass will appear.
- What about pathways in the grass. If you mow a border around your blocks of longer grass so that they have neat borders, or mow paths through the middle, it can look really special. They can be straight paths in a regular pattern, curving paths or even a mini-maze! These paths are good for wildlife too as it is said that many wild life creatures like using the short paths to move through the meadow before moving into the longer grass to get food.
- For an added ingredient. Try spreading wildflower seeds over the lawn in autumn so that all being well your wild patch will fill with color in the spring and summer. Come spring and summer they should have turned your wild patch into a beautiful meadow full of color inviting in the bees, the butterflies, the grasshoppers and more.
A final word
From Trevor Dines, botanical specialist for charity Plantlife, who says the popularity of artificial grass shows how disconnected we have become from the natural world.
“Whenever I see artificial grass my heart sinks – more nature smothered by more plastic."
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