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The Real Cost Of Using Artificial Turf For Your Lawn

Tempting as low maintenance artificial turf might seem, there are issues to consider beyond aesthetics.

A few days ago, a Toronto homeowner received a notice from the City of Toronto to remove the astroturf that she’d had professionally installed in the front, and back, of her home or face a $1400 fine.

Operating on a complaint to 311, by-law officers informed the owner, Sangeeta Gounder, that 75% of a front lawn has to be comprised of ‘soft landscaping’. So that means no paving over the front lawn, but also, no artificial turf (aka synthetic grass).

What’s The Problem With Artificial Turf?

The city cited that the issue with the synthetic grass is drainage. Ms. Gounder’s artificial grass was professionally installed, with two feet of drainage installed below the turf, but nonetheless, there is the possibility of creating flooding or drainage damage.

Artificial grass, unlike natural turf, does not absorb water as quickly, so in a large or sudden downpour or during the spring melt, the water might just run off, causing problems for neighbours and other infrastructure around the area.

According to the city itself: “Soft landscaping excludes hard-surfaced areas such as decorative stonework, retaining walls, walkways, or other hard-surfaced landscape-architectural elements. Artificial turf is not acceptable or considered to be soft landscaping and is, therefore, not permitted.” (Source)

Ms. Gounder and her husband had the synthetic turf installed three years ago because: “It was getting very difficult to keep a green, weed-free lawn.” The irony of their story is that the City of Toronto gave them a “Beautiful Front Garden” Award last year.

If Artificial Turf Isn’t Allowed, What Is?

Ms. Gounder’s wish to have a nice yard that isn’t made up of grass in the front makes a certain amount of sense to us: a beautiful, green lawn requires a fair level of maintenance and if that’s not your thing, you could end up with a lawn full of weeds, crabgrass, infestations and more.

So what are some other options that would be permitted under the idea of ‘soft landscaping’?

  • Dry gardens — by creating a space with a combination of stones, gravel, ornamental grasses and succulents, even with a weed barrier, you are creating a permeable solution so that rainwater and runoff can get through and drain properly. It also creates a yard that requires far less maintenance than a standard lawn. Keeping to the rule of 75% soft landscaping, you can also include garden beds with a colourful mulch to add pop and style, with some low shrubs mixed in with tall, waving grasses that will give the space a nice look year round.
  • Wildflower garden — have you ever walked by a house with what looks like a meadow of wildflowers instead of a manicured lawn? A lot of people create these floral yards with intention, even though it looks wild and natural. The choices they make of different perennial flowers and tall, ornamental grasses means that the yard isn’t a usable space for playing but it also means that you’re not contending with the neighbour’s dog using your lawn as a lavatory!
  • Ground covering plants — with either of the two above suggestions, or just on its own around your hardscape walkway to your front door, you can also consider perennial ground covering plants. These are plants that grow low to the ground and spread, often overpowering weeds, to create a virtually maintenance free garden, once firmly installed. Like what?
    • Several varieties of creeping thyme will work well in this capacity.
    • Mazus will grow with stems that take root as the creep and spread along.
    • Golden carpet sedum also grows no higher than 4” but spreads as it takes root.
    • Dutch clover is another option, creating a soft layer of green, with flowers, that is clearly not in need of mowing!
    • If you’ve got a lot of shade because of trees, consider moss. It looks great, doesn’t need to be mowed and helps absorb water nicely.
  • A dry creek bed — building a dry creek bed with rocks and small stones, and surrounding it with ground cover plants, mulch, and other hardy perennials, you can make it look like your front lawn once had a river running through it, without the bother of a hardscaped water feature.
  • Sod — if you must have a green lawn in the front, for at least part of your yard, it’s worth considering professional landscaping and lawn maintenance. The enhancement to your curb appeal from the application of fresh sod every season makes it a worthwhile investment, and with the combined use of one of the garden alternatives we described above, you can minimize your costs by only sodding a part of the front lawn area.

As you can see, if a green grass front yard isn’t for you, there are lots of options that require some elbow grease at the outset, but are low maintenance, well draining and will look beautiful for years to come. Consider one or combine several for a look that leaves your visitors wowed and your weekends free from mowing.