Turf Conversion

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Turf Conversion/Reduction Projects

As the drought continues, the challenges of maintaining a lush, green turfgrass increase. Higher water costs and water restrictions force the reevaluation of turfgrass areas. Many Arizona municipalities offer incentives for turf removal projects, and public perceptions regarding turfgrass are shifting. Turfgrass conversion involves replacing areas of turfgrass with artificial turf or drought-resistant lower water using plant materials while maintaining an attractive landscape.

Important considerations when removing turfgrass in an existing landscape:

  • How will existing trees and other plants adapt to the conversion?
  • What modifications are necessary to the existing irrigation system to support the new landscaping? 
  • How will the surrounding landscape tolerate the possible change in microclimate, including reflective heat?
  • Are funds budgeted for regularly removing errant grass sprouts for months or years after conversion?
  • Will the conversion require any new grading or drainage considerations?

Strategies for a successful turf conversion/reduction project:

Manage expectations Make sure all stakeholders - from owners, board members, community managers, tenants, landscape contractors, and end-users understand the process, the expected outcome, costs and timeline. Microclimate changes of higher temperatures and reflective heat should be expected. Synthetic turf often still needs additions of water for cooling and cleaning.

Protect existing trees & plants Each species and life stage of tree has different levels of tolerance for the changes in grade, microclimate and disturbance that comes with a removal/reduction project.  

Timing of the project Turfgrass needs to be strong and healthy for effective removal using herbicides.* Trees may need to have time to adjust to a new watering schedule and delivery method such as transitioning from shallow, sprinkler irrigation to deeper, point-source (drip) delivery to promote deeper root growth well in advance of the turfgrass removal.

Municipal incentives These incentives can be significant and they have expiration dates; check with the city where the project is located so deadlines are not missed.

If turfgrass conversion/reduction is not desirable due to any of the above points, water can still be conserved while maintaining healthy turfgrass. Options include a thorough evaluation of the irrigation system with efficiency upgrades, a partial removal/conversion of limited areas, and skipping cool season overseeding.

 *U of A Cooperative Extension Pub. 1371; CONVERTING TURF TO A XERISCAPE LANDSCAPE: