Israelis take to artificial turf

If you think your neighbor's grass is looking greener these days, take a closer look - it may be artificial turf.

Noam Gad 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Noam Gad 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you think your neighbor's grass is looking greener these days, take a closer look - he may have replaced his lawn with artificial turf. If so, he would be one of a growing number of Israelis who are deciding to put down polyethylene in their front yard, ditching the chores of mowing and weeding for a substitute that may look the same, or even better, than regular grass to the untrained eye. Once the exclusive province of sports stadiums, where it often received a bad reputation with fans and players alike, the newest generation of artificial turf is softer and more natural feeling, and a recent drop in prices has won over many Israelis. Shimon Hamu, CEO of Pashut Yarok (simply green), an artificial turf importer, says since the market for private homes opened up in 2000, the price of a square meter of turf, with installation costs, has dropped from NIS 450 to NIS 250, or even NIS 150. Hamu says Israeli consumers are among the most enthusiastic about the artificial turf, although the concept is beginning to catch on elsewhere, especially in dry areas such as the Persian Gulf. According to statistics provided by Pashut Yarok, artificial grass accounts for about 20 percent of all lawn installations in Israel, a NIS 30 million business. Of course, the purists aren't impressed. Oded Yafe, a consultant and "plant doctor" who works both in agriculture and in private homes, says, "You either have grass or you don't." Yafe derided the artificial substitutes as "plastic with leaves," saying a true gardener must invest in his plants, giving them water, fertilizer and pest control. Hamu says that is exactly what is turning his clients away from natural grass. "I have elderly clients, institutions that don't want to be bothered by upkeep," he says, "but my biggest buyers are the 'spoiled age' of 30-40, who simply don't find pleasure in mowing their lawn." Hamu says because the price of water is not very high here, very few customers switch to artificial grass in order to save water. Noam Gad, of the Gar'in store in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood, says business is booming for artificial grass. Gad sells a variety of grasses, with the length of grass and the quality of texture the main price determinants. The lowest-cost "Junior" variety, at about NIS 75 (excluding installation), is more like a green carpet than anything that can be compared to live grass. Its "grass" fibers are short and tough, reminiscent of a Velcro strip. Moving up to the premium varieties, such as the NIS 167 "Caesar" variety, the grass fibers are softer and longer, allowing them to be brushed into a wavy look. Although it would be hard to imagine confusing them with real grass, especially from close up, they do provide a soft, comfortable feel that could be appropriate for a front lawn. Silicon beads, sand or crushed rubber (often made of recycled materials) are frequently added to the grass so that it stands up straight and absorbs the pressure of footsteps. Gad says he receives orders from building contractors and private individuals, and that the artificial grass is especially popular with reception halls. He also has received a boost from this shemita year, when planting of real grass would be forbidden to religious Jews. But Yafe thinks institutions putting down artificial grass are making a mistake. "Think about a golf course," he says. "People come to see the green grass. If you put down artificial grass, people won't come." "A garden is something you grow with, the family grows, the children grow, and the garden grows," Yafe says. "Real grass breathes green life into a home. How could you put something 'dead' in its place?"