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It seems that artificial turf is becoming more and more popular each year. With less required maintenance and year-round color, artificial grass can seem like an easy way to have a lush, green lawn. One thing that synthetic turf cannot replicate, however, is the role of natural turf grass in the ecosystem of your yard. Replacing a living organism with a nonorganic ground cover can have unseen adverse effects on other landscape plants, especially trees.

Is Artificial Turf Good For Trees?

The short answer is “no.” To understand why, we need to understand the benefits that natural grass brings to the soil around a tree.

  • Synthetic grass reduces the water and air that can penetrate into the soil and be taken up by the roots.
    • While artificial turf is somewhat porous, natural turf is constantly aerating the soil with its roots and keeping the ground from becoming hard and compacted.
  • The environment created by synthetic turf is harmful to beneficial fungi and bacteria that naturally occur in the soil.
    • These microorganisms need the biomatter from organic lawn coverings to thrive.
    • Without these fungi and bacteria, the nutrients trees feed on will not be replenished and the soil will become inhospitable.
  • Artificial grass prevents above-ground nutrients from reaching tree roots.
    • Similarly to how it does not allow air and water to penetrate easily, artificial turf also prevents natural organic materials (leaf litter, insect castings, etc.) from easily reaching the soil and the tree’s root system.
    • When synthetic turf is rinsed off, much of the organic material on top of it is washed away and a major source of nutrients for the tree is lost.
  • If herbicide is used in conjunction with synthetic turf, trees can be poisoned.
    • Herbicides are often used to prepare an area for artificial turf installation.
      • These herbicides can be taken up by a tree’s roots and poison the tree, sometimes irreparably.

Will Artificial Grass Kill My Tree?

Short answer: “yes.” However, the decline of a tree because of artificial turf installation can be a long process and it may take several years to see the signs. Depending on the age and health of a tree, it may have enough reserves of energy to go three to five years without showing signs of stress. However, much like with construction stress, once a cycle of decline has begun, it is difficult to control and it can be impossible to prevent the death of the tree.

Does Synthetic Grass Cause Issues With Having My Trees Trimmed?

In addition to the deleterious health effects on the trees themselves, synthetic turf poses unique problems when considering having tree trimming, tree removal, or other tree work performed.

  • Debris from tree work, such as sawdust, can easily get caught in artificial turf, cause clumping, and be difficult and time-consuming to remove.
  • Heat and oil from tools and machinery can discolor or melt artificial grass, making repair or replacement necessary.
  • Even when care is taken, the weight and impact of falling limbs and trunks can cause divots, dents, and tears in synthetic turf, also necessitating repair or replacement.

How can I help a tree that has synthetic turf around it?

If you have an artificial turf lawn, don’t worry! There are several things you can do to help your trees survive.

  • Give your trees as much room as possible.
    • Leave a gap between the tree trunk and any non-organic ground cover (artificial grass, landscape fabric).
      • We recommend a buffer zone of at least four feet.
  • Consider installing ports in synthetic turf for fertilization.
    • When fertilizer is applied using a feeder rod, it is necessary to puncture synthetic grass to access the soil and root system.
    • Pre-installation of ports allows for easy access and minimizes repairs.
  • Fertilize your trees regularly with a product that contains organic matter that can enrich the soil.
    • Artificial turf kills beneficial bacteria and fungi, so these organisms need to be replenished.
  • Water your trees during dry periods.
    • Without the indicator of browning grass, it can be difficult to remember that living plants still need water.
    • Establish a good watering routine to keep your trees healthy during hot and dry seasons.
  • Before installing artificial grass, consult an ISA Certified Arborist to evaluate your trees.
    • An arborist can make you aware of any pre-existing issues with your trees and provide advice on how best to prepare your trees for the stress of synthetic turf installation.
  • Make sure to use a company employing ISA Certified Arborists for any tree health or trimming needs.
    • Inform them that you have synthetic grass around the tree, so that your arborist can be prepared to look for signs of decline.

At Texas Tree Surgeons, we love trees and we love our community! Artificial turf can make lawn care easy, but it’s important to be aware of the impact synthetic grass can have on trees and the living components of your landscape. If you are considering having artificial grass installed, or want to know what impact your synthetic turf is having on your trees, one of our certified arborists would be happy to come out and have a look. Contact us today!