The Real Scoop on Fake Lawn

  • You know you've wondered about it. You've probably been equal parts attracted and repelled by the idea of a "fake" lawn-- especially this time of year when mowing and watering in 100 degree temps is an expensive misery. What if you had magic lawn that didn't need either of those two time and money consuming functions?  Is "fake" lawn really a viable option? Does it look good/ real?  Is it expensive?  Would your yard look weird and unnatural?  Is it hot? Would you hate it?

    I don't know the answers to those questions-- they're just the questions I've asked myself BUT I do know Darrin Jensen-Peterson in Salt Lake City, Utah who has quite possibly the "realest" fake lawn I've ever seen. As with anything, there's good faux lawn and bad faux lawn.  When it's done well, most people will never know it isn't real (except, perhaps, in winter.) 

    As there is a lot of conflicting information on the internet, I decided to ask an someone who has lived with one for several years to provide the real scoop about faux lawn in our Utah climate.  

  • Darrin Jensen-Peterson was undertaking a landscape overhaul of his Mid-Century Modern home in Salt Lake City in 2013 and made the decision to "go faux." The landscape is used primarily for relaxation and entertaining and the new design reflects the emphasis on these activities.  

    The only lawn previously in the front yard was in the park strip, a poor location for lawn and so that's the only part of the front yard that was changed out for faux lawn. The remainder of the front yard consisted of a circular driveway and some plantings.  

  • 1. Central Open Shape

    While the front yard is nice, it's the backyard that really stands out in this design.  Although Darrin's landscape was designed and installed prior to the development of Localscapes, the landscape is still laid out using the same tried-and-true design principles.  The "lawn" is still created as a Central Open Shape.  In this case, it was done to meet the entertaining needs of the landscape but also for ease of installation.

    Speaking of installation, Darrin says this is not really a project for do-it-yourselfers.  Despite the rolled out carpet appearance, there's some pretty technical ground preparation required prior to install that is best completed by pros.  Darrin's re-landscape was professionally installed.

  • The secret to the appeal of his backyard is that there are plenty of mature trees and plantings surrounding the lawn that help it blend in. Avoidance of other synthetic elements, such as vinyl fencing, also helps naturalize the faux lawn. The mix of natural and faux create a strong balance.  In landscapes without perimeter planting beds, the integration of natural and real would not be possible so it stands to reason that properties with mature trees and plantings may experience a more attractive end result.  

    The biggest concern I've heard about using faux lawn is that the lawn area can be very hot.  In this landscape, that issue is reduced somewhat due to surrounding trees. Even so, Darrin says that it's true that the landscape radiates more heat than living lawn would.  However, if he needs to cool the space down, he can spray the lawn with the hose and it will cool the temperature by 30 degrees.  This makes it perfectly workable for a landscape used for occasional entertaining but if you've got large pets or small kids who would use it daily, heat would likely be an issue.  

    When asked what his favorite feature of the lawn was Darrin replied "No brown spots!"  The greatest disadvantage to having faux lawn that he's experienced is that it can mat down a bit in high traffic areas- but then again, so does lawn.  In terms of cost, this is not a project to undertake if your primary reason for doing so is saving money on your water bill-- though you'll see a huge reduction there.  The product Darrin chose has a ten year warranty but may last significantly longer.  He's not sure if he'll recover all the cost through water bill savings but it's been worth it to him for all the other benefits the faux lawn brings.  If he had it to do over, we would choose to have a faux lawn again.

  • 2. Gathering Spaces

    This yard was made for entertaining and includes covered dining and lounging areas adjacent to the home.  Hidden in a back corner is a stylish private sunken seating area that takes advantage of the dense wall of foliage on the slope behind the property.  Period-styled chaise loungers and fabulous shade screens are located next to the pool.  A narrow strip of faux lawn divides this seating area from the pool.

  • 3. Activity Zones

    The primary activity in this landscape is entertaining.  A swimming pool, tightly covered when not in use for safety and to conserve water, provides the main Activity Zone.  A small dry-pond water feature provides the soothing sound of water in the landscape while using very little of it.

  • 4. Paths

    The side yard contains a path that leads to the lawn and back patio.  Waterwise Creeping Thyme groundcover is placed between the stones.  Existing plantings fill the edges.

  • 5. Planting Beds

    Most of the plantings in this landscape were existing.  In fact, they're part of the reason the makeover was needed.  The once full-sun lawn area had become increasingly shady making it tough to grow a quality lawn.  The new faux lawn guarantees the lawn will always be a lovely shade of green.  

    The plantings around the lawn will contribute debris to the lawn that must be picked up or blown back into the beds with a leaf blower.  An added bonus is that the leaf blower will "fluff" any lawn that was matted down by excess traffic.

    Darrin was careful to note that faux lawn does not mean a "no maintenance" lawn.  It's just a different type of maintenance that can be more quickly accomplished.

    We'd like to thank Darrin for sharing his experience and we hope it helps as you're considering whether or not this may be a good solution for your landscape too.  As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages but Darrin's yard is proof that it's possible to create a very attractive faux lawn landscape!