When It Rains It Pours: Lawns Your Eco-Friendly Choice When It Rains

I get a kick out of how little patience Angelinos have when it rains.  First, we chant the unofficial California anthem “we need the rain, we need rain…” then when a little moisture falls from the heavens after a day we gripe about what an inconvenience it is.  On the second day, we forget to take our umbrellas.  By the third day, we’re walking our dog in shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops singing that 19th-century children’s rhyme “Rain, Rain Go Away Come Again Another Day.”

The drought has been hard on our lawns.  It’s even harder when water agencies and special interest groups have been spending considerable sums of money in an attempt to convince us that lawns are no good and to either stop watering them altogether or bride us with incentives to pull out living breathing landscapes for artificial turf and decomposed granite (DG).  Regardless the recent rain is a welcome relief.   While it may seem like a blessing to have all that water after such an extended dry spell, there are tremendous downsides to artificial turf and DG as a landscape replacement.  Today we’ll explore what has happened and what will happen to the good, bad, and ugly aspects of rain in the landscape.

Artificial Turf Pollution

For the amount of rain we received, some interesting things have been happening with fake grass.  It’s bad enough that a dinosaur had to give its life to make that plastic goop (it’s made from petroleum products) it’s been seen floating down driveways! Imitation lawns have to be stapled down.  Those staples will eventually rust and rot out.  Since the ground it sits on is compacted with no drainage, torrential rain will work itself under it and carry it away.  Let’s not forget that those staples then become a toxic hazard for tetanus if stepped on, which is an infectious bacterial disease which causes muscle spasms and lockjaw.  So much for walking on it barefooted.

Just a Thought:  Albert Hammond once wrote “It never rains in Southern California.”  I’m thinking this British composer isn’t in town.

Rubber In-Fill Is Dangerous

Faux grass needs a rubber in-fill to lift the unnatural blades forcing them upwards to look like a real lawn.   In the rain, as we experienced recently, that in-fill gets washed out and pollutes sidewalks which birds will think it’s food.  Whatever makes its way down the gutter into the sewer system heads right into the ocean to trick fish so they can eat it, which can kill them.  By the way, that’s not salmon roe you’re eating it might be rubber in-fill; now, there’s a thought.

Counterfeit lawns are deceiving.

“They” would have you think it’s a weed-free zone.  On the contrary, it gets weeds like a teenager gets acne – weeds all over the place.  Mock grass makes a mockery out of the person that has it because it gets dirty, real dirty.  For the ones that don’t float away, this dirt gets washed in by the rain.  In turn, weed seeds that have blown in from the neighbourhood or brought in by bird dropping germinate in that sludge.  Now, what do you do?  If you pull the weeds, the roots have lodged themselves in the backing, and you’ll lift off the plastic if it hasn’t washed away already.  You can’t use a weed whacker because you’ll chew up the blades, so the only thing left is to spray the weeds.  Believe you me, there’s nothing listed on an organic, natural, or chemical weed killer that remotely suggests whether or not you can spray on fake lawns.  What are you going to do? You could spray a small section to see if the spray will stain it.  Or, better still, is it going to melt it?  Let me know how that works out.

FYI  The phrase “raining cats and dogs” has been around since the 1700s, but its origin is still a mystery. Some believe it comes from ancient mythology or superstitions about animals falling from the sky. Others think it might be related to heavy rainstorms that caused gutters in England to overflow with all sorts of debris, including deceased cats and dogs!  I guess that was a thing in England back then.


Decomposed Granite (DG)

DG has been touted as a replacement for pavers or cement walks and driveways.  If it was that good why does the Department of Transportation install it under asphalt streets, highways, and freeways instead of on top?  Yet, water agencies are recommending it for your home!  This is absurd.  Here’s the 9-1-1 on DG, also known as Base:  DG isn’t as durable as it seems.  The individual pieces of gravel used to make up the surface are prone to shifting when they come into contact with water or heavy foot traffic, which can cause uneven surfaces that are a liability for what I call “Fall Down Go Boom Syndrome.”  While it’s easy enough to repair small patches yourself if you have the right tools and experience, larger areas will likely require professional help, making them costlier than other options in the long run.  Another downside of using DG is that it’s messy. Rain will wash away the fine cement-like particles, which are first a gooey mess tracking it into the house and your car.  Once dried, you might as well have a jackhammer to remove it, as it’ll stain like nothing else.  Plus, weeds will grow through it easily and while pulling or chopping them out is the admirable way of controlling the weeds you’ll constantly be loosening the surface.

Lawns Helping Nature Helping You

Since we’re on the subject of rain, you know you’re doing your part for nature when you have a healthy lawn.  Your lawn is a natural filter that works hard to keep our groundwater clean and safe from pollution.  It replenishes the water table so that we can continually have water.

Fun Fact.  Dirty shoes?  The let’s do the “Turf Grass Shuffle.”  When working in planter beds shoes are magnets for mud.  Shuffling on real grass provides an easy yet effective solution when dealing with muddy footwear woes. Simply shuffle and go!

Hey, You’re Cool!

Real grass also acts like an air conditioner helping regulate the temperature in hot summer months while keeping moisture levels consistent throughout the year. Plus, they don’t wash away during heavy rains – unlike other landscaping materials such as DG, mulch, and bark.  And, speaking of washing away-grassroots network together to hold soil in its place.  A chance of finding your front lawn down the street is nearly impossible.

Healthy Lawns are Weed Free Lawns

Having a well-maintained lawn can suppress weeds.  By investing some effort into caring for your yard properly, like mowing regularly and feeding, a tight-knit bond will happen to knock the weeds out before they can see the light of day.

Sod.  It’s good for you, your family, and the environment.


Nick Federoff
ThingsGreen.com Horticulturalist for PBS|KLCS TV, CBS|KCAL 9 News and Radio Talk Show Host

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