Going for green

Despite price pressures and drought fears, advances in turf carry on apace.

Did you know that 250sq m of lawn absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases enough oxygen for a family of four to breathe? And laying a lawn can bring other positive benefits: grass traps and removes dust and dirt from the air; it acts as a natural filter to reduce pollution by purifying water to pass to the underground water table; and on a hot day grass is cooler than concrete or Tarmac areas.
“Many people are unaware that laying a lawn brings benefits to our environment. It actually aids the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to the efforts to reduce global warming,” says Rolawn sales and marketing director Cedric McMillan. Based in the Vale of York, Rolawn is the UK’s largest cultivated turf grower with 1,456ha of turf in production.
Clearly there are good reasons for laying turf. Plus it is cheaper and quicker to install than it is to construct many forms of decking and paving. But with hosepipes bans in the South East and the threat of a hot, dry summer posing a risk in other regions, laying turf requires forethought, careful preparation and the selection of suitable product, though for many the first consideration will be cost.
Prices currently range from £2.50 to £3.50 per square metre for turf sold on the retail market. These prices, however, exclude carriage. Transport has lately become an issue and it’s not just the rising cost of fuel that is having an effect on the delivery costs. Q-Lawns sales and marketing manager Chris Carr explains: “Smaller gardens in new-build properties lead to smaller consignments of turf, which means a lorry needs to make more drops in a day, thus increasing fuel and labour costs.”
So does that mean the price of turf will go up in the future? It’s hard to say, but one thought is that prices will increase later in the year.
Marketing manager Steve Williams of independent turf dealer Craig West Turf (CWT) says: “Prices have remained artificially low for several years and I do not expect this to continue past the summer. There will probably be an increase across the board in the autumn when the growers’ new stocks come on stream.”
Lindum Turf managing director Stephen Fell believes there is some room for movement of prices in the specialist turf sector, especially for turf types that solve problems — actual or perceived — such as drought, shade, wear and maintenance. For standard landscaping turf, he sees prices remaining fairly static this year. But he also thinks that smaller gardens associated with the new-build market, plus hosepipe bans in the South East, could put prices under pressure.
Fell says: “Smaller gardens and the possibility of large swathes of the South East reluctant to lay turf that cannot be watered could put pressure on some growers to move stocks at lower prices. I hope that this can be resisted, as costs of production keep rising steadily.”

Better turf through technology
Under price pressure for many years, the turf industry has become very efficient, with the larger growers investing in the latest technology. Last year, for instance, Cannons Turf of Woodhall Spa became the first to buy a Trilo harvester to allow the quality to be monitored throughout the harvesting process. At Rolawn two new super mowers, each with 21 individual cutting heads suspended from a 12m-wide beam and capable of cutting up to 60ha a day, bring the company’s mowing fleet to 10. And at Tillers Turf the drive for efficiency
has led the company to invest in new technology such as the GPS Parallel Tracking to enable 10m-wide mowers to be driven without overlapping or missing strips. According to Tillers’ managing director Tim Fell, automatic stacking has also had a dramatic effect on efficiency.
Many turf growers have also diversified into other landscaping products and others have built up portfolios of turf products. Rolawn is now well known as a supplier of topsoil and CWT, which recently moved to larger premises in Avonmouth, now offers fencing, paving, decking, topsoil and aggregate products in addition to an extensive range of turf. Three years ago, Cannons Turf also expanded into landscaping products, providing landscapers with a one-stop-shop opportunity for everything needed for a project.
Cannons has also responded to landscaper demands by offering various turf grades. “Our choice of product is key to our success. We are able to offer a selection of quality turf grades from sports stadium to golf and links course, through to general landscaping needs,” says managing director Tim Cannon.
Growers are also focused on the
challenge of climate change. Four turf growers in the UK now have the drought-tolerant Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) turf in production. This new product, the result of collaboration between breeder Barenbrug and growers, has enormous potential for the future as Carr explains: “It suits our changing climate, doesn’t mind the shade and is very hardwearing. As back gardens get smaller, the domestic gardener needs a grass that will cope with intensive wear, soil compaction and possibly shade.”
At Tillers Turf Tim Fell agrees: “RTF is a species that produces a root system that can go 1.5m down into the soil. It has a root system three times the mass of perennial ryegrass, so you can see why it might stand up to dry conditions better by being able to exploit deeper reserves of moisture. Even in extreme drought, tall fescue will recover very quickly after the first rains.”
Although Tillers continues to produce sports turf on high specification rootzones, and has just been awarded the contract to supply 50,000sq m for the fairways and surrounds on the new Jack Nicklaus golf resort near Dublin, Tim Fell reports that a significant acreage is also down to RTF. The company recently supplied RTF turf to Uphall Recreation Ground in east London, where it was used in the area of tree planting.
Lindum Turf, another grower never in the mould of one-product-fits-all situations, offers eight different grades of turf, trying to encompass all the requirements of golf, football, equestrian and landscape sectors. The company has good stocks of RTF turf available. “It can bring hope to customers in areas subject to drought orders. We are answering the calls of a lot of anxious gardeners,” says Stephen Fell.
He believes innovation is important in the turf industry. “Three years ago, Barenbrug produced Bargold — a very fine-leaved ryegrass with the hitherto unheard of ability to be mown down
to 5mm. We subsequently launched Ryegreen, a Bargold/fescue mix which can be used on golf greens subject
to intense wear. It is also a very attractive surrounds turf or indeed lawn turf,” he explains.
Grassfelt is another innovation from Lindum. A soil-less living carpet of grass growing in a felt base, it is strong and moisture retentive, ideal for unusual landscape features and sculptures as well as providing instant erosion control on slopes. This year Lindum is launching Wildflower Turf in the Grassfelt format, catering for those who do not require the manicured amenity grass look and prefer a more rustic appearance.
Product development, combined with continued investment to provide efficient production, should give landscapers and gardeners even more reason to use turf. But if you are laying turf in areas with water restrictions remember it is essential to plan ahead, order only the amount required of the most suitable grade, insist on just-in-time delivery and be ready for it. A light roll should give the roots good contact with the soil and if there is an opportunity to water, do it in the evening.

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