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TURF’S UP

How real does Anna Day’s artificial lawn look?

Real enough to pass muster with Angel, Day’s chocolate Labrador retriever, who embraces the patch of faux grass as though it was made by Mother Nature herself and not people toiling away in a factory.

“The other night, she came out here and she was kind of rolling around on it, like she was scratching her back on it,” Day says.

Consider it a testimonial to synthetic lawns, which have come a long way from that first-generation stuff you find on miniature golf courses.

Today, artificial lawns — the better-quality ones, anyway — look real, right down to the deliberate touches of subtle brown and off-green coloring woven into them. They feel real, too, as long as you’re willing to include as “real” the dried-out grass you find in late August.

The only thing a synthetic lawn lacks these days is the earthy, sweet scent of real grass, although someone somewhere probably is working on that, too.

Synthetic turf increasingly is an option to consider for Southern Nevadans who seek a bit of green in their landscapes without the expense and labor real turf demands.

Cheryl Waites of the Community College of Southern Nevada’s Desert Garden Center appreciates the virtues of natural grass as much as anyone, and even she is impressed by some of the fake stuff she sees.

About five years ago, artificial grass wasn’t much better than AstroTurf, she notes. “You looked at it, and it was like Easter egg grass you stick in a basket.”

Interest in the modern artificial lawns is on the rise, Waites says, particularly among newer Southern Nevadans who have relocated from more lawn-friendly locales and now wish to install more desert-friendly landscapes.

“The majority of us are used to having a lawn, just looking outside and seeing that sea of green there,” she says. And, for them, “the idea of losing that green can be scary.”

It is a practical choice. Artificial lawns need no irrigation, so water bills drop dramatically, and no maintenance is required other than an occasional hosing off and a bit of raking to make the stomped-down blades rise again.

Artificial lawns are, Waites says jokingly, “for those of us who want it all.”

George Uftring, owner and president of Forever Lawn of Las Vegas, says about 65 percent of his clients buy synthetic lawns to replace real turf, while the rest are buyers of new homes installing yards for the first time.

Synthetic lawns are installed much like a carpet, over a base — typically sand or a combination of other crushed materials — that provides cushioning and allows for drainage and anchoring

Depending on the quality of the material and the features desired, synthetic turf can cost from $5.95 to $10 per square foot, Uftring says.

Also spurring interest in synthetics is the $2 per square foot rebate the Southern Nevada Water Authority offers to homeowners who replace grass lawns with water-smart xeriscapes, Uftring says. (After 1,500 square feet, rebates are $1 per square foot.)

Uftring estimates that a homeowner can reduce his or her annual water bill by an average of 65 percent with synthetic turf.

A few weeks ago, Sharon Friedman spent about $8,000 to replace 1,000 square feet of grass at her Spring Valley home with artificial grass. Her verdict: Just like real grass, “only it’s greener. And I don’t have to be out there when it’s 110 mowing my lawn.”

Friedman used to pay $70 to $80 per month on average for her water bill, but expects that to drop to about $15 a month.

At Mountain Shadows, a planned community in North Las Vegas, a patch of synthetic front lawn, augmented with desert landscaping, is a standard feature of every new home.

Jim Cerrone, vice president of sales and marketing for Standard Pacific Homes, says the desert landscaping packages he has seen offered by other builders were “not attractive, to my mind.”

“We wanted to offer something a little nicer that wouldn’t cost the buyer any more money, and be part of the home and make the neighborhood look nicer,” he says.

Lorne Wilson, Mountain Shadows community manager, says prospective buyers have been “extremely positive.”

“It looks so clean and pristine all the time. It’s a big selling point for customers coming through. And it’s very low-maintenance for them, which is terrific.”

Day, who lives at Mountain Shadows, loves it that her yard is “so green all the time.”

Even better, she says, is the sun glistening on the blades of faux grass that makes it look “like it’s got a little bit of dew on it. It’s very neat, looking like it just rained.”

Next door, Ralph and Mindy Seta like their faux front yard so much that they installed a synthetic turf play area in the backyard for their kids.

“Less maintenance and worry-free is better for us,” Ralph Seta says. “We’re not handy people.”

But doesn’t anybody become at all nostalgic for the look, the feel, the earthy scent of real grass?

“Um, no,” Friedman answers. “I don’t miss the bugs. I don’t miss the mowing.”

Friedman used to spend her weekends a slave to her turf. Now, she says, “I go shopping instead.”

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