Joni Mitchell wasn’t kidding when she said you could wreck paradise with a parking lot. You can damage it with a driveway, too, especially the typical asphalt or concrete ones. Or you can keep the pavement out of your little piece of paradise by opting for a driveway made of grass block pavers.
Are grass block pavers the right choice for your driveway? Read on for everything you need to know.
What are grass block pavers?
Grass block pavers—also known as turf block pavers or grow-through pavers—are an alternative to asphalt, concrete, and traditional pavers. They’re made of concrete or recycled plastic with open cells that allow grass to grow through them. They’re a porous, eco-friendly option for driveways and parking areas.
Where can I use grass block pavers?
Driveways, parking areas, and walkways are the best surfaces for grass block pavers. They’re also good for slopes, where you need to stop erosion.
Where should I not use grass block pavers?
For patios, a solid surface may be preferable. Grass block pavers are better for parking vehicles than for party guests. Tufts of grass don’t make a good surface for lounging, entertaining or loitering with a drink in your hand. “A chair wouldn’t sit level on it,” says Richard Risner, principal at Grounded, a landscape architecture firm in Solana Beach, Calif. “Walk on it in heels, and you’ll sink.”
Regular pavers spaced so that regular grass grows between them in thin strips are a better choice for patios. If you must have grass block pavers on your patio, choose a paver with tiny cells for the grass and cut the turf so that it’s level with the top of the paver block. (You’ll need to water and feed it more, because extremely short grass is fragile.)
Pros and Cons
- Grass block pavers reduce stormwater runoff, one of the biggest sources of water pollution. Stormwater runoff is caused when rain washes over asphalt or concrete, picks up oil and other road pollutants, and washes the whole toxic soup into rivers, bays, and streams. And because they absorb water, grass block pavers slow down the water that races over pavement in a rainstorm, preventing erosion.
- Grass block pavers recharge groundwater. Those spots of grass allow rain to seep into the ground, putting it back into aquifers, very important in arid climates where water supply is tight. The grass and soil in your grow-through pavers will filter out the pollutants, so the water that returns to the earth is clean.
- Porous pavers keep the air around your driveway cooler, thanks to the magic of transpiration from that grass. An asphalt drive absorbs heat and gets hotter than Phoenix in July.
- You can congratulate yourself on being an earth-friendly person.
- They’re beautiful. Squares of grass beat a shroud of asphalt or concrete every time.
- Grass block pavers have grass, so they come with the same drawbacks as a turf lawn. They get weeds. They need to be watered (unless you live in a rainy place where nature does the work for you.) They need to be mowed. They need to be fertilized. Asphalt or poured concrete is set it and forget it.
- They can cost twice as much as asphalt. Grass block pavers run from $4 to $6 per square foot. Good old asphalt or concrete costs from $3 to $4 per square foot.
- They last half as long as concrete and asphalt, which need to be replaced in 20 to 30 years, with patches to cracks every three to five years. Grass block pavers will need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years in a residential drive where nothing but your Prius goes over the surface a few times a day. They’ll last only five years in a commercial driveway, where hundreds of thousands of cars, including gigantic trucks, SUVS, and possibly even Humvees will drive over it.
- They’re not ADA compliant, because they create a surface that’s too bumpy for a wheelchair.
What kind do I need?
- Concrete: Best for driveways and parking areas, because concrete can stand up to the weight of cars driving and parking on it.
- Plastic: Best if you have small cars, or you’re making an area for guests to park cars. Plastic grass block pavers can’t stand up to as much vehicle weight or wear as concrete pavers. Plastic is a good choice for pathways, just be sure to pick a type with small cells so your feet can’t sink into the sod. Risner says he’s done projects where he uses concrete grass pavers for the main driveway, and plastic ones for a parking area off to the side of the drive that won’t get as much wear and tear.
- Stable grid: Best choice if you’re trying to prevent erosion on a slope. It’s not truly a paver block, but a reinforced plastic netting. Consider it a first cousin to pavers. Stretch it over the ground, and the mesh expands into cells where you can plant grass. Unlike true grass pavers with grids, you won’t see strips of hard surface between the grass. You’ll get a solid surface anchored to the ground that reinforces the grass so it won’t wash away. It’s largely used in commercial applications, including highway roadsides or slopes, but it can handle that steep place in your lawn where every single thing you’ve planted washes out like a California landslide.
How do I install them?
Whether using plastic or concrete, you going to make five layers. It’s the hardscape version of making lasagna.
- Put down a base of crushed gravel mixed with sand to level the surface.
- Place the blocks next.
- Then lay another layer of sand and compact it.
- Lay a layer of topsoil.
- Plant grass.
- Stay off the grass until it’s established.
Unless you have top-flight hardscaping skills, you may want to hire a pro for this.
About that grass. How do I plant it, and what kind can I use?
The best way to grow the grass is to sprinkle seeds into the cells. It’s the slowest way to get the grass, as growing from seed always is, but your grass will have deeper root systems and be hardier.
If you want instant gratification, sod it. Cut squares to fit the cells and lay them in. You’ll have your green drive done by sundown. Unless you live in Seattle or the Gulf Coast where you get regular gully washers, choose a drought-tolerant variety such as buffalo grass so you don’t negate the eco-friendly paver drive by putting hundreds of gallons of water on it to keep it alive. Other good grasses that can stand up to two tons of steel driving on them are zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, and ornamental sedge.
Another option if you live in an arid climate or loathe cutting grass: Fill the cells with gravel. Technically, that’s not a grass block paver, but it will still allow water to seep into the ground and stop that nasty stormwater runoff.
So move your asphalt. Chuck the concrete. Go with grass. The planet will thank you.
If you’re planning a hardscape project and looking for tips and materials, see our curated Hardscape 101 guides to Decks & Patios 101 and Pavers 101. To see how grass block pavers look after they’ve been installed, take a look at some of our favorite projects:
- Landscape Architect Visit: A Classic Lake Michigan Summer House by Kettelkamp & Kettelkamp
- Hardscaping 101: Design Guide for Patio Pavers
- Green Your Driveway with Permeable Concrete Pavers
- For more paver choices, see our recent 10 Easy Pieces posts on Stone Deck Tiles, Nonslip Floor Tiles, and Wood Flooring for Decks
- 0 Easy Pieces: Grass Block Pavers
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