Todd LaytTurf – the cost effective groundcover

Compared to ground cover plants, pavers and decorative gravels, turf is more cost effective. The recent economic downturn has seen the sale of turf boom. Why? It is the lowest cost choice for home owners and landscapers to cover the ground. Recently, at the International Erosion Control conference on the Gold Coast, an independent economic expert presented a cost analysis of turf compared to other erosion control surfaces. When compared to other ground cover surfaces and other erosion control techniques, turf was the most cost effective alternative based on percentage of cover and effectiveness. This has major implications for the home gardener and general landscaping.

Combining large areas of turf with adequate areas of plants makes a natural-looking and cost effective landscape.

Combining large areas of turf with adequate areas of plants makes a natural-looking and cost effective landscape.

Using turf to control erosion: At 23% ground coverage after establishment, Hydromulch actually often came in second to turf in the cost analysis. Silt fences and coir logs were shown to be ineffective compared to turf in silt removal, and as a sediment and erosion control measure, and they were also far more expensive in comparison to turf.

Turf being tested for erosion control

Turf being tested for erosion control

How does the cost of installing turf compare to garden beds?

Any landscape professional knows that the cost of installed turf is far less than pavers, concrete, plastic fake grass, tiles and other hard surfaces. Decorative gravel installed correctly with a compacted base of construction grade gravel, weed mat and 50mm of decorative gravel on top was estimated to be 3 times more expensive at low-end estimates compared to turf and 2 times more expensive at high-end estimates compared to turf installed correctly. See estimate table Gravel vs Turf Cost. Low-end estimates are minimum costs using lowest general cost products, density etc., and the high-end costs are using more expensive methods and more costly products. This is typical of how cost analyses are performed.

Turf costs comparisons

Why having, or keeping a lawn is a cost-effective way to have a beautiful garden: Installed turf is significantly more cost effective than installed gardens. In the estimates, the low end cost of installing a garden with plants, mulch and soil conditioning, including labour was $26.50 per square metre for 140mm pots. For turf it was $11.50 per square metre. The high end estimate for plants was $55.60 per square metre and the high end for turf was $23 per metre squared including preparation and installation costs. If large areas are mass planted with tubes, the low end estimate for plants was $14.10 per square metre and the high end was $47.60. When it comes to the lowest cost general landscape product, it is clearly turf. Naturally, turf cannot be the only product used, as it is limited by user needs, functionality and cultural conditions, but if cost savings are needed or desired, consider increasing the amount of turf around your home.

Turf is a low cost option when you want landscaping with a quality finish

Turf is a low cost option when you want landscaping with a high quality finish

Tips for choosing and maintaining your lawn

Choosing the right lawn for shade: Now you have chosen to use turf, what are some of the limiting factors, and which turf should be chosen? Shade is one major limiting factor of where turf can be used. Anything above 70% shade generally limits turf as an effective ground cover. Buffalo turf in passive wear areas will work in up to 70% shade, whilst in higher wear areas it will work in up to 60% shade. In a Department of Primary Industry and Horticulture Australia study, Sapphire® turf rated the best form of Buffalo for shade. Zoysia generally handles around 50% shade, with couch and kikuyu coping with approximately 15% shade. If the site is more than 70% shade, low growing Liriope planted between stepping stones makes a great alternative to turf. Isabella® Liriope muscari ‘LIRF’ PBR is a fast spreading low growing Liriope that can be mown once per year, and it works in very heavy shade or full sun.

Lawn of Zoysia Empire™

Lawn of Zoysia Empire™

Choosing the right lawn for low maintenance: Maintenance can be another limiting factor. Some clients may not want to mow much. Gardens and other alternatives can help here, but so can the choice of low input turf. Zoysia needs far less mowing and edging than other turf types. Empire™ Zoysia also needs very little fertiliser. For large commercial amenity areas, large residential or acreage properties, using Zoysia turf like Empire™ and Nara™ native turf can save huge sums in maintenance.

Dogs love playing on lawn

Dogs love playing on lawn

Choosing the right lawn when you have dogs: Dogs can be really hard on turf. If it is a sunny aspect, Kikuyu and its quick regrowth works best. Here the extra mowing works in your favour. A new Kikuyu marketed under the trade name of Kenda® has more rhizomes, allowing it to far better withstand the traffic of dogs. For shady spots Sapphire® Buffalo ‘B12’ PBR is best. For erosion control on slopes or in drainage channels, Zoysia turf is easily the best choice. It needs far less mowing than other types, but has also been shown to strengthen the soil far more than couch or kikuyu. Nara™ Native turf took 15kg more in force to tear securing pegs through it than couch in a recent study. This means it can be secured on slopes and high flow areas far better than couch and kikuyu without the use of netting.

Turf is the most versatile ground cover you can have!

Turf is the most versatile ground cover you can have! This is Nara™ native turf.

Turf helps stretch your landscaping budget: Functionality and personal preference obviously limits the appropriateness of using turf in some situations. For example, entertainment areas with fixed furniture, under patios, high traffic pathways or next to fences or walls where screening plants are needed. One way to have the budget to spend more on these more costly areas is to maximise the use of turf around the landscape. Many people naturally desire gardens, and the best way to make turf more garden friendly is to use turf types that need less edging, namely buffalo and zoysia.

Using herbicides: Turf is actually carbon positive, meaning that with modern lawn mowers, emissions are less than the carbon sequestration of turf. There are many tips that help maintain lawn more efficiently. Edging turf on very large gardens can actually be done with Fusillade. As long as the plants are not true grasses like Poa or Pennisetum (Lomandra and Liriope are OK) then Fusilade will kill the grass that invades into gardens without harming plants. Sempra does a good job taking out nutgrass and other sedges from lawns. Turf farmers use pre-emergents to stop weeds from coming up in lawns. Did you know Prolan or Embargo (ORYZALIN) can be used on turf and gardens? Just before spring each year is a good time to treat all the gardens and turf with this product. I find the higher label rate works best. At the lower rates broadleaf weeds do not seem to be controlled. The use of pre-emergents can save lots of time and money. They generally are best used by people on acreage, and can be purchased from Elders or Globe in larger bags.

Fertilise your lawn at the right time of year for the turf type and your climate zone

Fertilise your lawn at the right time of year for the turf type and your climate zone

Tips for fertilising your lawn – using the right type and at the right time of year

Aesthetics of turf can be enhanced and maintenance costs can be saved by using the right type of fertiliser at the right times of year. For kikuyu, buffalo and zoysia the most important time of the year to fertilise is autumn and winter. If applied at these times winter colour is greatly improved. Couch is not improved by winter fertilising, unless you are in the tropics. Mid spring is the other important time to fertilise, but make sure you use slow release fertiliser. The winter slow release fertilise will carry over through early spring. By not fertilising or fertilising only very lightly in summer, you can save a lot of time not mowing turf. If it is a high wear area more frequent fertilising is required, including summer fertilising. Standard fertilisers will need to be applied more regularly than slow release types, and with today’s cost of labour, that makes non slow release types expensive. Slow release types last months, whilst normal fertiliser only lasts a week. One final tip – in shady areas mow at a higher setting, as turf survives better in the shade if it is left longer.

Using more turf in your landscape can greatly reduce the overall cost of the project. Using larger areas of turf can allow you to spend more on the smaller entertainment areas.

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Todd Layt

About Todd Layt

Todd was the author of Drought Tolerant Gardening Guide, 2009, ISBN; 978-0-646-50860-3. He has written for the Landscape Contractor and the Landscape Manager magazines for 10 years. For many years he ran turf farms and a large production nursery. Now he is director and owner of Ozbreed Pty Ltd, breeding many native and exotic plants, as well as turf varieties including Sapphire Buffalo, and Nara Native turf.  

7 thoughts on “Turf – the cost effective groundcover

  1. I agree with pretty well all that you say Todd. In my large garden, the lawn does a good job of covering some of the space. It’s Palmetto buffalo grass, which is tough and (even in last week’s awful heat in Melbourne) needs little watering. It also looks more or less OK with the weeds that sneak in, especially oxalis. It makes a nice visual contrast to the plants, trees, shrubs and stone paving. And it provides some clear space (except when you have a large party!)

    • Todd Layt on said:

      I am happy that you love your lawn Anne. It is nice to know it is also cost effective.

  2. PeterG on said:

    Hi Todd,
    I have recently moved to the country on a large block of one acre on a new estate which was previously a paddock. The grass is kikuyu and I have started several fairly large garden beds which have spade edges.

    At the moment, I am just cutting off any grass runners that start to invade the garden beds, but you suggest that “edging turf on very large gardens can actually be done with Fusillade” – would glyphosate work as well?

    One more question regarding fertilisers – you say that autumn and winter are the times to fertilise for kikuyu – can you recommend any to use, preferably organic.

    appreciate any advice

    cheers

    Peter

    • Todd Layt on said:

      Round up will kill plants, while any drift from Fusilade will not hurt plants, unless they are Poacea (True Grasses). Fusilade only kills Grasses. (It will not hurt Lomandra, Liriope, Mondo, which are not true Grasses. ) So no you cannot use Glyphosate to do the same thing.

      I find a true Slow Release fertiliser the best by a big margin. The second best would be organic, but it does not last as long.

      Hope that helps.
      Todd

  3. Roxanne on said:

    Hi Todd
    Thanks for your really great informative article on the many benefits of lawn over alternataive landscape elements. What we especially love about lawn is that it’s the best option for a cooler surface in places like Australia where a our summers are hot and we like to still enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. Whilst those hard surfaces still do have their place within a well designed landscaped garden (though not too sure about that fake plastic turf), lets face it they can be hot where lawn isnt.

  4. jack on said:

    I LOVE DUCKS

  5. There’s nothing like having an all green lawn all year round. Maintenance can be tedious but rewarding.

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