The Greener Grass On The Other Side

I’m just back from visiting my friends who live in the big city.

They are urban dwellers with a lovely courtyard and a great rescue dog.

She is a beautiful, black German Shepherd with a lot of energy. Guess what? She digs. She digs big holes and dumps her toys into them. Well, that first winter when the pouring rain was followed by freezing temperatures, my friends found holes filled with frozen tennis balls and protruding sticks throughout their yard.

That’s when they made the decision to install beautiful, forever green, synthetic grass. Synthetic grass! This is a garden column and I’m a gardener! I didn’t understand, but it sure does look good.

So, is this AstroTurf? Well, no, not really. Synthetic grass has come a long way since 1966 when it was first installed in the Houston Astrodome. Today you can choose the shape, color and length of the synthetic grass blades, mimicking fescue, bluegrass or others.

How does it work? How is it installed? As with most things, there is a high and low end of products and installation methods. You can run out to the hardware/lawn center and buy a role of “grass,” put it on a concrete slab and call it a day. But there is another way.

My friends had professional help with the installation, but here’s what they did:

Step 1 was removing the current grass, dog toys, and underneath layer of soil. That meant digging down five or more inches.
Step 2 was laying a gravel or rock base.
Step 3 was a layer of sand. The rock and sand will help with drainage.
Step 4 was laying the “grass” and building a frame, then attaching the grass to keep it in place. This is serious and with good reason. Quality grass that is professionally installed can last for 20-plus years.

Twenty years of no mowing, no fertilizing, and no reseeding bare spots. Twenty years of no muddy paws or grass clippings being tracked in the house. That’s a sales pitch.

This grass “grows” in the shady spots and can be installed to accommodate garden structures, such as lamp posts and pathways. I did notice a few stray clover tufts near the edge. So weeds do happen.

In most residential lawns the synthetic grass is a companion to naturally planted borders. This allows the gardeners to play in the soil, plant borders, and enjoy the blooms and produce without the hassle of mowing.

Other ways to garden while having a synthetic lawn include raised beds and container gardens. Both can be placed on top of the grass.

Is it the best of both worlds? The grass can be expensive, and it is a synthetic product — but it is more common than you would imagine. Walking through their charming urban neighborhood, it was not an uncommon sight. And it’s not just an urban thing: I know of synthetic grass lawns in Charleston.

We mentioned drainage and dogs. Quality grass will have a backing that allows for rainwater or other liquids to flow through. This is why the sand and rock layers are important. Solid wastes you pick up just like you always do and then hose off the lawn when necessary. Leaves from the nearby trees still need to be raked (but use a plastic rake), and other yard debris still needs to be picked up.

Back to my friends and their lovely courtyard. Did I mention that they are much neater and more minimalistic that I am? They have been known to vacuum — yes, vacuum — the “lawn” when necessary.

Oh, and the dog? The new lawn is OK with her. She suns herself by laying in the yard, plays ball in the yard and, like all dogs, is happy to be outside with her family.

Kermit the Frog was right, it’s not easy being green. But there are ways to always have a green lawn. Is synthetic grass for this gardener and her pup? No, I will continue to battle nature and take my chances, muddy paw prints and all.


Jane Powell is a long-time West Virginia Extension Service Master Gardener through the Kanawha County chapter and has a garden with sunny spots and shady beds where she grows perennials, vegetables and herbs. She is also the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Reach Jane at