Faking It

A tutorial on installing artificial turf

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  • Written by
    Pauline Adamek

From expansive estates south of the Boulevard to diminutive saltboxes in the flats, they’re cropping up everywhere. With the drought in California rolling into its fourth record-breaking year—and with no end in sight—more homeowners than ever before are ripping out lawns and going the artificial route.

The benefits are many: You get a gorgeous green expanse that always looks beautiful and requires no work or water. Once installed, it can last more than 20 years.

Hidden Hills resident Marla Lefton is a recent convert. Three years ago she and her husband used J & M Landscaping to replace the grass in their backyard. They liked it so much, the couple recently supplanted the front area with artificial turf. Marla’s property runs over an acre, including a tennis court and border landscaping.

“It looks so realistic that people don’t even know until I tell them,” Marla says, adding that when people come over, she just can’t help confessing. “We save 44% on our water bill every month, which is amazing. So I want people to know how great this is!”

"We save 44% on our water bill every month, which is amazing. So I want people to know how great this is!”

Jay McMullen at Southwest Greens says sales for his business have doubled over the past five years. His specialty company both manufactures and installs, offering more than 20 different multi-use “grasses” to select.

“Most customers want a nice, tall and natural-looking lawn,” he explains, “but some have family sports requirements, such as putting greens or bocce ball courts—even pet-friendly corners.”

Southwest Greens sells their grass by weight, so an 80-ounce is about 2 inches tall; the 60-ounce and 50-ounce varieties run about 1¾ inches tall. For a more realistic appearance, he recommends a brown thatch for the lower layer.

“Most real grasses contain at least two colors to the blades and two brown colors beneath,” Jay explains. There is a blend of three to four colors of olive and light green in most of the grasses Southwest sells.

According to Jay, an artificial lawn on a typical 1,100-foot front yard will cost approximately $1,100. Prices range from $8 to $12 per installed square foot. But costs can be brought down with creative landscaping that combines a smaller green patch with meandering paths, well-placed trees, rockery and succulents on the nature strip.