Kate Foster Lengyel moved to Park Slope from Manhattan three years ago with dreams of a verdant backyard for her two young children. But she was skeptical when her landscaper suggested artificial grass instead of real grass.
“I think I had a little bit of a preconceived notion that perhaps it was cheesy or it wasn’t going to look aesthetically pleasing,” she said. “But eventually she came and she showed us a few samples and I was pleasantly surprised with how natural it looked, and it was durable and low-maintenance, which were the most critical factors. We wanted something that was very low maintenance but had the look and feel of grass.”
Lengyel is not alone. More and more, homeowners are rolling out artificial grass as an alternative to real grass in the notoriously shady backyards of Brooklyn, where closely spaced four- and five-story brownstones block out the sun.
It also works well in rental situations; Dixon, the publicly traded Australian company that renovates and rents out Brooklyn townhouses, uses it in almost all its backyard installations.
Local landscapers say fake grass is a low-maintenance and cost-effective option for those without the time or desire for daily lawn care. And even though they’re still made of plastic, today’s products look and feel increasingly lifelike compared to the days of AstroTurf.
“There’s no proper way to install AstroTurf to make it look realistic,” said landscaper Jonathan Yevin of Brooklyn-based M.U.D. landscaping. “But I regularly go to my own installations a year or two later and think it’s a real lawn.”
Yevin said 30 to 40 percent of his residential clients consider artificial grass. He charges $16 to $25 a square foot installed, depending on the brand and variety. Yevin lays the fake grass over a foot of crushed stone for drainage, and screws the edges into a wood frame to keep it in place. He recommends artificial grass for brownstone owners and families who want a soft surface with little upkeep.
“Lawn maintenance is an American subculture and I don’t think in Brooklyn we have the patience for it,” Yevin said. “You can take the hose to it and clean it off. There’s no real maintenance.”
The number of fake grass products is growing as business takes off across the country. SYNLawn, a popular brand based in Georgia, has more than two dozen varieties, including some with pet deodorizing systems. The grass comes in short and longer versions, and some manufacturers throw in a few brown blades among the green ones to make it look more authentic.
“Ten to 15 years ago I had a predisposed dislike for fake grass. It had always been rough and plastic,” said landscape designer Todd Haiman. “But now I end up taking a sample of it to clients and I say ‘Take your shoes off and step on it,’ and they love the way it feels under their feet.”
Haiman recommends surrounding the artificial grass with real plantings.
“If you have some planting beds where you put more natural-looking plant material then you’re able to have something that has a little bit greater aesthetic quality,” he said.
Crest Hardware sells the Garden Mark brand’s “Montana” line in 7.5-inch wide rolls for $25.99 a foot. Lowe’s sells the 7.5-foot wide rolls (from a brand called Everlast) for as little as $18 a foot. It also comes in 12- and 15-foot-wide rolls.
But for proper drainage and durability, you can’t just roll out artificial turf “like an outdoor carpet,” notes Yevin. “A proper installation that will stay planar for 10-plus years must be heavily excavated, a perimeter frame constructed, the gravel underlayment spread and compacted in 2-inch lifts, the roll itself carefully situated taut and scribed around existing elements, and finally screwed into the frame.”
Lengyel, the Park Slope mom, is still enjoying her lawn three years later. It has survived ice cream and pizza parties, and the four seasons, although the grass tends to get hot in the blazing sun.
“We could have just done stone and planters but for us the whole point of moving here was so the kids could play soccer in the backyard,” she said. “It was part of the whole Brooklyn fantasy.”
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