Artificial Turf Has Real Advantages

p90512.jpgLawn is the carpeting for our outdoor spaces. Like pavement or decking, it makes the space in or gardens useful for more than growing other plants. Since it is designed to share its space with us, we give it more ground space than any other type of plant. For what it contributes, most of us do not mind giving lawn all the water and attention that it requires. It really seems indispensable.

Realistically though, most of us are lazy; and we really should be using less water in our gardens. Perhaps it would be more polite to say that we should more selectively prioritize the expenditure of limited resources and effort. Lawns that do not get much use are probably not worth all the work and water. There are easier ways of managing extra space than covering it with turf grass lawn.

Whether we like it or not, artificial turf is very undemanding, and requires no water. It is a bit too uniform and perfectly colored to convince those who bother to notice that it is not real turf, but it is still more convincing than old fashioned artificial turf. It is durable enough for children and dogs, as long as no one tries to dig in it. It does well where dark shade prevents real grass from growing.

The cost of artificial turf is an important consideration. It is relatively expensive for those who maintain their own lawns. However, artificial turf that last for many years is less expensive than paying gardeners to mow for just two or three years. The perfect uniformity of color and texture that might be unappealingly unnatural for horticultural purists is so worth the extra expense to perfectionists.

Installation of artificial turf in a new landscape is relatively easy, since irrigation can be installed only for adjacent plants that require it. Replacement of real lawn with artificial turf in an established landscape is much more challenging, or in rare situations, impractical. Trees and adjacent plants that are reliant on lawn irrigation will need to be watered (somewhat) where the original lawn was.

It seems silly and contrary to water conservation to water artificial turf, but it is sometimes necessary until roots of established plants adapt and migrate to other sources of water. This can take a few years for trees that are surrounded only by lawn. Irrigation need not be as frequent as it was to sustain turf grass, but should be sufficient to sustain any other plants while they figure things out.

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Crop Circles

P90616These are perfect conditions for crop circles. Even without any convenient grain crops, there is plenty of tall grass in unmanaged and ungrazed fields. All this grass needs is to be crafted into crop circles.
The first crop circles that I ever witnessed were made by cows. I was not much more than six, and my younger brother who found them was not much more than five. No one bothered to explain to us that cows were related to cattle who grazed nearby. Consequently, we had no concept of what cows were.
Earlier in the day, we had discovered what was described to us as a ‘cow pie’. Naturally, we were skeptical. It looked just like what cattle leave behind, which was not good. I was not about to try it, so got my younger brother to taste it. Apparently, it tasted about as bad as it looked. It seemed quite suspicious that a cow would made such an unappealing pie, and then just leave it out on the ground like that.
When we found the first of a few crop circles, our older sister and her friend told us that it and those we found afterward were made by the same cow or cows who made the unappetizing pie. Apparently, cows like to lay down in long grass. Although we did not know what a cow looked like, we ascertained from the sizes and shapes of the crop circles that the cows who made them were quite large and somewhat circular.
Furthermore, since we did not see any trails leading to or from the crop circles, we deduced that the the cows who made them flew in from above. We were very intelligent kids.
Of course, since then, I found that baby deer make small crop circles; but because they have such long and lanky legs, they do not leave such obvious trails leading to and from such crop circles either. There is no need to fly in from above.
Rhody made a very small crop circle, and because he is so lean, did not leave much of a trail coming or going. He is not tall enough to step over the grass, but is narrow enough to get through it without disturbing it much.P90616+

Fake New Lawn

P90512A new lawn is getting installed at work. Yes, installed. It will not be grown like lawns were decades ago. It will be unrolled and fastened into place, not like sod, but more like carpet. It will be synthetic artificial turf. After considerable deliberation, it was determined to be the most practical option for the particular application. The real turf that was there before succumbed to excessive traffic above and very sandy soil below.
The contractor who will be installing this lawn sent a sample piece of it prior to the final installation. We actually do not know why we got a sample, since we already know what the particular artificial turf is like. There was some concern that it would get too warm in sunlight, but it arrived with no explanation. It was unrolled onto the asphalt driveway at our maintenance shops, and surrounded with cones to protect it from getting driven on.
Rhody wasted no time in trying it out. Obviously, he found it to be quite satisfactory. He rolls around on it and tried to dig into it like it is real grass. With all the fallen locust flowers and cottonwood fuzz, it even looks like a real lawn in need of raking. I certainly hope that it does not expect to be watered and mowed as well.
You might think that all horticulturists would automatically dislike artificial turf. Yet, I am not the only one who prefers it to real turf grass in some situations. You see, real turf takes so much effort that those of us who enjoy horticulture would rather put into other more interesting and productive chores. After all, lawn is the most demanding feature of most landscapes, but is also the most monotonous and boring. Many of the best get no use.P90512+

By the way, this article was intended for yesterday. The article that should have posted today got posted yesterday instead. I am sorry for the glitch of chronology.

Fountain Grass

80725It was probably a good idea when it was introduced to California, but fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum, became too much of a good thing for a few temperate regions in which it naturalizes and displaces native vegetation. Although it now works to inhibit erosion where it grows wild on the embankments of highway interchanges, it must sometime be mown because it is combustible.

In home gardens, fountain grass is more appealing if shorn back at the end of winter, and watered occasionally through the warmest part of summer. If feral seedlings need to be removed, a few may be left if they happen to grow where more plants are wanted, or to replace aging plants. Fountain grass should not be planted in regions where it is likely to naturalize but has not yet done so.

Fountain grass has narrow leaves that arch upward and outward so that the tips of outer leaves are just touching the ground. They might sag lower; or they might stand more upright. The fuzzy tan or pinkish tan flowers that bloom in summer may stand as tall as three feet. Individual plants live only a few years. The cultivar ‘Rubrum’ has striking purplish bronze foliage, and does not self sow.

The Lawn Is Always Greener

70419thumbTurf grasses are the ultimate in groundcover. They are very durable, and useful for covering large areas in a very user friendly manner. The toughest varieties are used for athletic fields because they withstand the wear and tear. In home gardens, all sorts of varieties are grown as lawns. Like other groundcovers, lawns limit erosion, and are cleaner than bare summer dust and winter mud.

Yes, turf grasses and lawns are the most useful of plant materials; but they are also the most demanding. They require more water than almost anything else, except only aquatic plants and some bedding plants. A healthy lawn must be mown and edged regularly, and as often as weekly in warm weather. Weeds are difficult to control once established. Gophers can cause serious damage.

Regardless, for all sorts of landscapes ranging from athletic fields to home gardens, a lawn is worth the work it takes to grow it. Only Trona High School has a dirt athletic field; and only because the soil is too saline and the weather is too scorching for turf grass. At least home garden lawns are more modest than they were years ago, with larger patios and decks, and other groundcover.

Artificial turf still has a bad reputation. The first AstroTurf of the late 1960s was nothing like real turf grass. It had a coarse texture, and eventually faded and deteriorated. Its main problem was that it was so regularly compared to real turf grass instead of recognized for its own attributes as an alternative to lawn, like carpeting for outdoor spaces. Yet, it was popular for certain applications.

Modern artificial turf looks and feels a bit more convincing, and is more resistant to wear and weathering. It might be more convincing if it were not so perfectly uniform. It is already more popular than old fashioned AstroTurf was, even for playgrounds and athletic fields. Artificial turf is expensive to purchase and install, but not as expensive as the maintenance and watering of real grass.

Compared to the installation of real turf grass that needs irrigation and soil amendment, the installation of artificial turf necessitates less excavation. It is therefore less invasive to the shallow roots of established trees and shrubs that are already in the landscape. However, plants that are accustomed to generous lawn irrigation might need to be watered through newly installed artificial turf.

Litter Box

P80120+++++Perhaps I should elaborate on the ‘litter boxes’ in the ‘Six on Saturday’ post earlier this morning. As I already mentioned, they are in the same parking lot as the Leo and Leona sculptures. They were formerly inhabited by Italian cypress trees that would now be like those nearby if they had survived.

This is no joke. Someone really selected the tree that provides the least shade for hot pavement, and attracts the most birds to do what birds do on parked cars.

Because they were installed as large boxed specimens, and were watered generously enough to maintain swampy conditions in the surrounding soil, most of the cypresses could not disperse their roots fast enough, and consequently got blown over onto parked cars in their first or second winter. The survivors took many years to get established, and were bound to big and unsightly lodgepole stakes for years.

Rather than getting outfitted with ‘shade’ trees or perennials, . . . or anything, these litter box planters remain as blank and uselessly small rectangular lawns, requiring regular mowing, edging and lots of watering. Incidentally, many of us around town let our lawns die to conserve water. Brown is the new green.

Because they are in such a high traffic area, and sometimes get run over by cars, the sprinkler heads are always in need of adjustment. They are quite generous with sharing their water with the surrounding pavement and any cars that might be parked there early in the morning, which makes the waste of water more blatant. The curbs are tripping hazards.

So, what are these litter boxes good for? Are they reserved for grave sites? ‘Very’ miniature golf perhaps? No one knows. This is not exactly a nice spot for a picnic or a game of volleyball.P80120k

Dwarf Pampas Grass

71004Modern garden varieties of pampas grass found in nurseries are generally non-invasive. Their flowers are described as ‘sterile’, and therefore unable to produce seed. What that really means is that they are exclusively female, and unable to produce seed without male pollinators. However, they have the potential to be pollinated by naturalized pampas grass, and sow a few hybrid seed.

Of course, if naturalized pampas grass (Cortaderia jubata) are already in the area, a few tame dwarf pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ will not make much of a difference anyway. They have the same elegantly cascading foliage and boldly fluffy flowers in the middle of summer, but on a smaller scale. The long and narrow leaves might stay less than five feet tall. The white flowers might stay below eight feet tall. Unfortunately, the leaves can easily cause nasty paper cuts!