Homeowners who threaten to pave over their lawns to escape time-consuming mowing and weeding chores aren't just joking anymore.
Families are increasingly replacing or reducing the size of their thirsty, turf-covered yards by "hardscaping" or substituting a variety of non-plant materials.
Hardscaping can include installing such things as walkways, retaining walls, patios, built-in barbecue grills, fences, hot tubs, swimming pools and ponds. Low-maintenance materials like stone, concrete, crushed rock or shredded bark are the materials of choice. Anything but grass.
Busy lifestyles and the desire to recharge in garden rooms or on decks rather than spend precious leisure time manicuring and shaping lawns are helping drive the trend.
Lawn and garden sales have been trending downward over the past few years, while hardscaping sales are up, the National Gardening Association says.
But if you're not a fan of rock collecting or looking at inorganic yard clutter, you don't have to face a garden shorn of the green grassy look. There's always artificial turf.
The artificial turf developed for backyard use isn't the synthetic stuff of athletic fields, however. "The blades are significantly shorter. It's like a manicured lawn," said Trevor Brooks, executive vice president, marketing, for NewGrass in Scottsdale, Ariz., one such product.
"The market is growing exponentially," said Brooks, whose company began operations just a few years ago. "Our biggest (sales) area is in the Southwest but we also are getting a lot of interest in the New York area. Water conservation is a major issue. It also makes more sense to use it in shaded areas and places hard to get to with real grass.
"It's a little more expensive upfront," Brooks said. "But there's no maintenance. No water costs. You don't have to mow the lawn. In the long run, the (artificial) grass pays for itself in three years. There's also a manufacturer's warranty on color fade," he said. "It won't show any wear and tear."
Like many such synthetic products, NewGrass comes in several different varieties. The NewGrass blades are made primarily from polyethylene, the same compound found in everyday plastic water bottles. It is marketed in three varieties: premium-quality rye, which sells for $4.99 per square foot; the monofilament fescue which is priced at $3.99; and the broadloom tufted synthetic "sport" with a taller, 2-inch pile height, that sells for $3.79.
Artificial turfs provide greenery year-round and they are free of weeds, turf dust and the allergens they can cause. "Back yard to school yard, the right choice for any application," NewGrass says on its Web site.
"Around here (Southwest), you're beginning to see a lot of xeriscaping -- people making over their front yards with rocks and drought-resistant plants," Brooks said. "But a lot of people from our Phoenix area came originally from somewhere else. They're used to lawns but they want an easy-care alternative."
Some people may scoff at the idea of putting down artificial turf, but it's a beautiful, beneficial alternative to real lawns, Brooks said.
"Ours looks so real I've had people come up to me and ask how much water it needs."