“Why on Earth are there so many different kinds of this stuff?” We hear it all the time. In fact, it’s one of our most frequently asked questions and that makes perfect sense!
After all, by the time you’re looking at samples, you’ve already had to decide to do a landscaping project, choose a medium you’d like to use (like pavers or fake grass), and then choose companies to scope out by visiting stores or getting estimates. That is a lot of decision making and a lot of work. Now, after all that work, you find yourself faced with yet another unexpected decision. The task can feel daunting. Between three or so quotes, the researching homeowner may find him or herself with somewhere between 3 and 15 samples! Of course, you want to make an educated decision as you plan what will become a major part of your landscaping over the next 20 or so years.
So, before choosing, it can be helpful to know exactly what choice is really being made. Why are there so many types of artificial grass and what are the differences? Being well versed in the techniques used in the design of each grass type can help you feel more confident in choosing not only a grass that feels or looks nice, but one that will help meet the needs of your project for years and years to come.
If you’d rather just have someone come out and discuss your specific project, you can always request a quote instead!
The first and potentially most obvious difference between a group of fake turf samples will be the colors. Don’t worry, they’re all green (usually). But they are different shades of green. From a bright lime green to a darker, more muted olive tone, and everything in between, artificial grasses come in a wide variety of colors. The differences between them can be drastic or subtle.
That wide variety serves a few purposes. First, there are many different types of real grass. Different colors help to better mimic those natural grasses more fully. Having different shades of fake grass also allows you to find something that matches any existing color schemes of the surrounding landscaping, if that’s a concern. For example, if the landscaping that surrounds the turf has a desert feel, an olive shade would be better than a bright green one.
Of course, there is also the reality that people simply have different tastes. As with anything, everyone has their preferences. It has certainly happened that as we showed samples to a couple, they chose completely disparate favorites. This happens because we all define grass differently in our minds. If you were to close your eyes and think “grass”, a very specific image would likely emerge.
Go ahead, try it...I’ll wait.
What does grass look like to you? Did you notice a specific color or other attributes that give you hints about how you define “grass”? You may or may not have realized that you are likely the only person who pictures “grass” exactly like the image that was called to your mind.
The uniqueness of the human mind is fascinating, but it also means that the companies designing artificial grass have a lot of expectations to meet that cannot be met at once. The solution? A whole lot of different fake grasses in a wide variety of colors.
Shine isn’t something that anyone wants in an artificial turf. What do I mean by shine? On fake grass, it often looks like grass shimmering with morning dew. There are a few causes for artificial grass to have a sheen. Plastics can, sadly, be shiny in their own right. With a product made of primarily plastic, this makes avoiding shiny grass tricky
Another huge cause of shine in artificial grasses is the way it is constructed. Luckily, these things can be resolved during installation and should be expected from a professional installer. First, when artificial grass is manufactured it is rolled up into big rolls. An installer will then get a smaller roll of the grass that a homeowner selects. Because the fake grass has been rolled up, it looks very flat at first. Your samples may look exactly the same because they will have come from similar giant rolls. When artificial grass is installed, part of the process is raking or brushing it up so that the blades stand up straighter. Once the artificial turf blades are standing up straighter, the grass looks significantly less shiny from all but one side.
The key is to face the least shiny side in the direction that the homeowner wants it to look its best. Let’s say you want artificial grass installed in your back yard. A skilled installer would install the grass so that its least shiny side was facing the house. If you’re looking at a sample wondering how to tell, you want the tips of blades of turf pointing toward you. If the blades of grass are
pointed to you, you see into the grass more and see a deeper color with less sheen. Check out the example to the right one one grass facing two different directions to get a better feel of how this can look. We
recommend looking at all samples you receive this way, so you are comparing them equally in regards to shine.
Rest assured that a properly installed grass will be significantly less shiny than a sample received for the first time often does. However, if shine is a real concern or it’s important that the grass looks perfect from all sides, you may want to consider an artificial grass that is delustered.
What does it mean for a fake grass to be delustered? It means the grass was made with extra components to help it be less shiny from all sides. If our homeowner were to place all of the samples they received outside in the sun and notice that one was particularly less shiny compared to the others, it would likely be delustered.
We’ve learned about color and shine so far. The last of the differences that might be noticeable right away is height. Landscape artificial grasses range in height anywhere from about ¾” long to about 3” long, with a lot of variation in between.
First and foremost, like with color, part of the purpose of the differences is that it allows for personal preference. The best way to think about this is lawn mowing. If you have real grass, how often do you like it to be mowed? Do you prefer it done weekly, so it stays short and crisp? Or perhaps you prefer every two weeks because you like it to look a little longer? With artificial grass you can skip the mowing (we recommend you avoid mowing the fake grass, in fact), but you can still choose the look you prefer.
A few things to keep in mind as you decide:
Artificial grasses that are longer are more likely to mat down when there’s traffic on them. They can usually be raked back up but if you’re expecting a lot of heavy traffic on your fake grass, a longer turf may mean a little more maintenance. It wouldn’t cause any damage to the grass, though.
If an area is meant for pets to use and you expect that they will go to the bathroom on it, a shorter grass is easier in terms of clean up than a longer grass. The longer grasses can be cleaned, it again just means a bit more maintenance. Otherwise there is no difference for pets.
A skilled installer knows that you can’t just place fake grass at the same level as everything that is next to it. Synthetic grass has a backing that holds everything together. That would stick out like a sore thumb. Instead, artificial grass is installed slightly lower than everything around it. Be aware that whichever grass you choose will lose ¾ - 1” of height during the installation process. This means a 1.6” tall grass could have 0.6” sticking up above grade.
Generally, height choices are cosmetic. It comes down to what you prefer.
Alright, now that we know about the differences between fake turf that we can see easily and were likely to have noticed, what else is left?
When artificial grass is made in the factory, it starts out as pellets of plastic. Those pellets are melted down and then formed into long fibers that make up the “blades” of artificial turf. Those fibers come in a variety of shapes. If you find yourself staring at a stack of samples you’ve received and you want to see an example of blade shape, some close inspection is required. Take the end of single blade of grass between your fingers. Looking down at the very top of the blade, you should be able to see its shape.
Some grasses will look like a very thin rectangle. Those are called flat blades. They’re the most cost effective and easiest to produce. They do the job for a low traffic area or a landscaping project on a budget. They will last long term, just with some more maintenance and the loss of some potentially beneficial features. These blades will not be delustered or stay cool. They will save money on water bills and landscapers for years to come.
Others might look similar but with a wire or thicker middle. Stem blades are flat blades with a wire going through them. They are similar in most ways but do stand up slightly better to traffic. They’re also more durable so the blades themselves will last longer.
Other grasses look like they’re shaped like a half oval. These are called C shaped blades and they pack a punch. Because of their shape, these blades will stand up to traffic better and stay cooler.
Define it: Traffic means how much the grass is walked on, run on, tackled on, danced on, etc. Just like real grass, the more traffic there is, the more likely the grass is to lay down. If it does, it can be usually raked back up in most cases.
There are many, many shapes of artificial turf blades. While your installer should be deeply knowledgeable on all the different kinds and the details of how they differ, there’s no need to try and memorize each kind. What’s more important is understanding the differences that exist and how they may impact your project.
It may sound like the right answer is always to go with something that is more advanced, has more potential benefits, or could stand up to the heaviest traffic. The reality is that any installer who uses high quality materials will provide something that will stand the test of time. The trick is finding the grass that will also meet your needs. There is always a give and take with any positive characteristic. After all, if this weren’t the case there would be one perfect fake grass and that would be all anyone sold. But some grasses that handle heavy traffic, for example, are also very stiff to the touch. So, if the goal is to play soccer on it, it might be a good fit. But if you’re imagining picnics with the kids in the backyard, it may not be as cozy as you’d like. Like with many things in life, it’s all about compromising and figuring out what you prioritize.
As you get estimates and receive samples, ask about blade shape and how it may affect your project. You may be surprised by how capable some installers are at helping homeowners not just find an artificial grass that looks nice, but also one that will meet their needs in terms of traffic, temperature control, sheen, and texture.
Let’s sum up:
Blades have different shapes and those shapes impact how it behaves.
Shapes can affect sheen, temperature control, look, texture, and how the turf handles traffic.
When combined with traffic, shape may affect the life of the grass. Talking to a knowledgeable source about how you will use your area and what grasses you’re considering is a great way to make sure you are able to make an educated decision about your artificial lawn.
Now that we’ve talked about all of those pieces of plastic that make up the blades of fake turf, how do they stay together? They’re held together by the “backing” of the grass. It’s a layer that is used to connect all of the pieces of grass.
The first layer of artificial grass backing is the fabric that the “blades”, called yarn, are woven through. Then a thicker backing is applied to hold everything in place. The backing is important because it holds the grass together and determines how well water drains through the artificial grass. Just like shapes, there are many types of backings. Let’s look at some of the most common.
A green backing usually means that the backing is made of latex, but this isn’t always the case. This is not a form of latex people are allergic to, so fear not. Latex backings are sturdy and strong. Their downside is that they’re more difficult to cut and adjust during installation than some of the alternatives especially in colder climates. A professional installer should be able to adjust to any backing and install it skillfully.
A black backing often means that the backing is made of polyurethane. Like latex, polyurethane is a plastic, just a different form. It doesn’t feel as tough to the touch but is significantly easier to cut and manipulate during installation, especially in colder climates.
Both latex and polyurethane backings can be perfectly functional and work well. The key with either backing is that it be strong enough to stand the test of time. With the cost of the investment, your artificial grass should be made to last. If it is, the backing may be thicker. Thickness is one of many ways manufacturers design backings to hold the artificial grass blades in place for the life of the turf. If you’ve taken all this time to research your turf, backing is not the place to skimp.
An additional option for should you have four legged friends who will be using the new area is a permeable backing. While a quality artificial grass with any backing will drain at a sufficient rate for most purposes, it’s worth your time to consider a permeable backing for pet areas. These backings provide increased drainage to help prevent pet odors and urine drying on fake grass. This is especially worth considering if many dogs will be in the area or the area is very small.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the liquid still has to drain through compacted base rock, the material under the fake grass. The grass will certainly be more permeable, but the limiting factor in drainage is almost always the base rock, regardless of the type of backing. So, while the backing would be 100% permeable, the base rock is not and will inevitably drain similar to other grasses.
Whatever the backing, the shape, or the color, the goal is to find a quality product that will last. Considering these characteristics can help you narrow down what is quality. Still, while it’s true that quality is top priority, it’s beneficial to also consider what the grass looks like, feels like, and performs like.
Installing artificial grass is quite the commitment. That grass will be there, looking just like that, for a very long time. It’s important that each look out the window, barbecue in the back, and game of catch feels like living – not worrying about your fake grass or wishing you’d chosen something else.
This may feel like a lot. There’s certainly a lot of information and a lot to consider. The great news is that you don’t need to make these decisions alone. You can always contact us here at Bella Rosa to talk about your project and your choice of grass. We’re happy to rattle off information about a product or talk about how this shape will work for a specific situation versus that shape. We’re not just happy to – it’s what we’re here for!