My Astroturf Compromise

I never thought I'd have such a dilemma when it comes to my yard.

I grew up with a really large back lawn and sizable front lawn, and it was where I spent most of my childhood free time. Our yard was mostly lawn, part had a swing set, part a vegetable garden, some had fruit trees and bushes and vines.
Then I moved away and moved abroad and for a time we had no yard at all. After that, we rented an apartment, and though it had a yard we didn't know how long we'd stay so didn't want to invest in the yard so just used the large porch we had.
Once we finally decided to invest in our yard and plant a vegetable garden, we had a falling out with our landlord and ended up leaving not long after that, to a home with no yard, were we lived for five years.
At that point, I had gotten really into both frugality and plants, and it made it really difficult for me that I had no yard. I dreamed about having a yard. Dreamed about what I'd do with it, all the fruits and veggies I'd grow, be self sufficient with produce or at least as much as possible. I researched square foot gardens, learned what I could about gardening, wrote posts about my future dreams for my yard. And in the meantime, tried to container garden, and then failed abysmally there.

And then we basically hit the jackpot and were able to purchase a home with both a front and back yard. As soon as that happened, I tried planning what to do with our yard, since it was small, but still decently enough sized that we'd be able to do something useful with it.

The thing is this, we live in an area where it doesn't rain much of the year. Because of this, water is at a premium and the cost of maintaining and keeping up a grass lawn is preposterous, not to mention very environmentally unfriendly. So as much as my childhood revolved around playing on our grassy lawn, I knew that wasn't a realistic option locally.

Instead, I made plans that my backyard would be a filled with edible wild plants that were thorn free and sting free so the kids could enjoy the yard and we'd have lots of yummy edibles, and the front yard would be a vegetable garden.

So it started off decently enough. Our yard did get filled with wild edibles, front and back. But our vegetable garden failed abysmally.

I may be really good at picking plants, but growing them and keeping them alive is not my forte. Every single plant pretty much that I tried to grow in my yard failed, other than lemongrass, oregano, sage, and mint.

And my yard in the back became an overgrown jungle filled with wild edibles, and the front did, but to a lesser extent. And then the rains stopped and my yard is filled with waist high (or taller) dried out plants.

And my kids complained.

And rightly so.

Because of the state of the yard, my kids can't enjoy it. They can't go out to play in the yard. They can't sit out there and lounge around. We can't put in an aboveground pool. We have a yard that is only enjoyed by the dog.

And my kids asked me if I would put in fake grass, or astroturf.

And I said no.

I don't like it.

I grew up with the real thing, with grass. And the thought of a yard filled with plastic grass replica rebelled against everything that I wanted in my yard.

And I said no.

And my children asked me again. And again. And again.

And I thought about it some more.

We have that yard that I always wanted, and wanted my kids to enjoy and experience. And because of my desire to have a real yard with real plants, no one is enjoying my yard but the dog.

And it's a shame.

I was trying to figure out ways that our yard could be usable and still not fake, but without the enormous price tag and maintenance of a green lawn, but the only things that came to mind were making a large wooden deck, tiling... Or the alternative, astroturf.

At some point, I realized that in my desire to have things "just right" with my yard, my quest for perfection was causing me to miss the forest for the trees, and was making sure that no one would be able to enjoy it, and that I had to come to a compromise.

And so I did some research on the process for installing astroturf.

And then I balked.

It involves many steps, the first of which is ripping up what is there, then laying it with gravel, then using a machine to flatten it, then putting tarp on it (or maybe the tarp goes under the gravel, not sure), then laying down the turf then hammering it, then covering it with sand...

And I said no way, no how.

If my kids want astroturf, I'll do it. But not that way. Because the official way of doing it effectively ruins my yard and if I ever change and want to undo it, I'd have to pay a lot of money to undo all the damage I did to the yard. Not to mention the really large investment (the gravel, the delivery, the machine to flatten it, the tarp, the nails, the delivery for the sand, in addition to the actual turf) even if you'd do it all yourself, and even more so if you pay a professional to do it.

So my compromise is this.

I'd get astroturf, but not high quality stuff. I'd price compare and look for the cheapest.

And we'd clean the weeds out underneath, but then not to any other preparation other than laying the turf.

The things underneath it aren't completely necessary, they're more aesthetic. If you don't put down the gravel and flatten it, and do it to a specific gradient, water might drain through too quickly, bringing some of the dirt with it, and the landscape would shift a bit and after a few years it won't look as good, the yard won't be as flat and perfect. And I'm cool with that happening. I want what I'm doing in my yard to be reversible should we choose it.

And the tarp would prevent weeds, but there are ways to deal with weeds if they do pop up between your astroturf.

I do know people who put down fake grass and didn't do any of the preparations and it worked fine for them.

And I'm willing to do that, and even if it doesn't work as perfectly as possible, if it makes the yard livable and enjoyable for the children without such a big price tag and without permanently destroying my garden, that's all I need.

I price compared and found some really low prices for astroturf. And then my friend Tanya was in the discount grocery store in the city that I often visit and showed me that they had astroturf there for as cheap as it was online, but without needing to pay the additional delivery fees. Total was $68 for nearly 200 square feet divided into three rolls of astrotuf.

So I went there with my kids and brought back three large rolls of astroturf with my kids. Yes, I put these in my shopping cart and on two different buses. That was a bit of an adventure but I made it home with them.

And now the kids are cleaning the yard to prepare it for laying out the fake grass.

I decided to leave the edges of the yard undone so I can grow plants and trees there there and not have it feel so fake.

And I'm proud of myself for being able to compromise.

My kids are thrilled, and that's what important.

I'll share pictures when it's all the way done.

What are your thoughts on astroturf? If you have a yard, how do you keep it so that it is usable for everyone? 

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Our yard is very shaded so the grass doesn't grow well at all. We do get more water but it doesn't help if the grass doesn't get enough sun. I would love to try fake grass!

  2. great idea! no grass watering...just vacuum when needed!

  3. Got my front yard done professionally, have an issue with the turf waiting for warranty results 🤬
    Back yard is small rectangular so I put real grass for my dog and granddaughters

  4. We have a small front garden (about 12 x 16 feet) and bigger space in the backyard that was completely covered in concrete tile by the previous owners. For the front garden, I paid a landscape designer to come up with plants that would survive living there (it's very, very shady) and just bought the plants that she recommended (mostly). I wouldn't say anything has thrived, exactly, but they're still green, and the things that flower have flowered or are still flowering. For the backyard, we planted a sage bush and a patch of mint and catnip in the planter next to shed, a rosemary bush, and we're cultivating the part of a lavender plant that managed to survive last summer's drought. This year I also planted some honeysuckle vines against one of the walls, and we also have a gooseberry bush (that somehow hasn't died yet) against the wall to our shed, and someone has promised us a fig tree. We're thinking of planting grapevines, loofah squash (this might be something ideal for your environment!), and eventually a raised beds with basil, oregano, and some other herbs next year, but that will depend on what shape I'll be in next winter, when we're supposed to ready the beds. My husband also got me a kumquat tree for a lark, but that's in a pot, so to my mind it doesn't really count as part of the garden.

    Most gardeners need to fight the compulsion to do too much: too much water, too much fertilizer, too much pruning. You have to monitor the health of your plants, yes. But besides an occasional session of weeding, supplementing the mostly-sandy-soil of our front yard, sprinkling a smidge of fertilizer every six weeks or so, and watering only when the plants are starting to get "soft", I don't do much for the plants. And they seem to be just fine.

  5. I understand the frustration but wonder if you have read about the chemicals used in astroturf? Astroturf is made with plastic grass and shredded tire "infill" -- both of which are made from petroleum. They retain heat so on warm and/or sunny days they are often 50-60+ degrees hotter than the air or grass -- 150 degrees is not uncommon! And some of the same chemicals in shredded tire are banned from children's toys because they can increase the risk of obesity, ADHD, early puberty and eventually cancer. Shredded tire mulch also contains lead. I'm the president of a nonprofit research center so here is some free info:

  6. Astroturf is a BAD idea. Heat, cost, toxicity, environmental load, turf-burn, grows bacteria really well from bird, dog, cat feces so must be washed regularly.
    This stuff is plastic. It usually contains lead as a color fixative to keep the green 'pretty'. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC say there is NO safe level of lead exposure. The plastic rug also kills everything below it-- weeds, grass, bugs, earthworms, all of it becomes a dead-zone. The plastic must be treated with flame retardants since it's a petroleum product. As the plastic rug breaks down with age, weather and use, the lead and flame retardants and everything else aerosolizes or breaks into smaller particles that can be ingested, inhaled or picked up through skin contact. The rest washes into your nearby creek and watershed where it bioaccumulates and works its way up the food chain. Engineered wood fiber is a good alternative, and so is high-traffic grass blends that are developed for your area. Don't add to the toxic load your kids are already exposed to.

  7. Do what ya gotta do to keep the kids happy. I'm trying to kill my grass off and use ground cover instead. Preferably clover. Also for gardening consider this idea. Since rainfall is poor, maybe think about a container garden. Something small. Planter here and there. Then take a 2 liter bottle, fill with water and shove it into the dirt. It will not drain all at once, but a little bit everyday until empty. Self watering planter on the cheap. I did that when I turned a hard plastic kiddie pool into a garden. Keep up the great blogs. Love 'em.

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