Dry lawns go green with paint

08/24/2012 5:00 AM

08/25/2012 6:42 AM

First, artificial turf moved from the playing field to home lawns. Now there’s lawn paint to cover up the brown blades that so many of us have been looking at these past two droughty summers.

I’d been reading about home-turf painting in other areas of the country and was prepared to mention it as another desperate but light-hearted way to cope with the hot, dry weather. Then I got a call from Gayle Morphis of Eastborough last week. She said her neighbor was painting her lawn. The trend had come to town. To a point.

“I’m just doing this on my own, just doing it for favors for the neighborhood,” said the painter, a professional by the name of Rick Lynn. He’s painted Gayle’s yard, his daughter’s, and brown parts of his own yard on the same block of Eastborough, along with a strip of parkway across the street. He’s even hit a couple of dead yews with his biodegradable grass-green and is eyeing a dying pine in a neighbor’s yard across the street.

“I’m thrilled,” Gayle said of the result in her yard. “My husband does love a beautiful lawn — that’s something that he really likes — and it’s just kind of neat to have that look.”

Amazing how difficult that look has been to come by as many people have been unable to afford enough water to keep a lawn green these past two summers.

“We’re tired of high watering bills,” which have reached $700, Gayle said.

That’s where the lawn paint comes in, Rick said.

“A couple years ago, I figured there had to be a way to keep the grass green,” Rick said. “You would pay to keep it alive but not to keep it green, because the water bills over here in Eastborough are just unbelievable. We get such a surcharge. I talked to somebody the other day who had a $2,500 water bill.”

Rick figures that the paint ideally would go on lawns as they were starting to go a dormant brown during a hot summer, so that by the time the paint started to wear off — supposedly after an average three months — the grass would naturally be greening back up in cooler weather.

Of course, I was anxious to see colorful lawns, and I didn’t need exact addresses to find them. They stuck out of the brown landscape like a green thumb.

My immediate reaction was one of pleasant transport, to a place that hadn’t been scorching. But knowing that the lawns were painted, I naturally then took on a critical eye. I saw something of the artificial Christmas tree in the grass, along with the barest hint of blue — something that Rick was trying to avoid in his search for the perfect paint. But I couldn’t deny that the result was much better than brown. The island in the middle of the street, especially, was an oasis for heat-weary eyes.

“And it feels good,” Gayle said. “We wanted our dog to be able to go out there; we have an electric fence.”

Rick “Googled things” and found that the most realistic green color came from LawnLift of California. He ordered the concentrated paint from that company for $133 a gallon. It can be diluted to as much as 20 parts to 1 with water to achieve the desired color, he said. Holding up a blade of natural and a blade of painted grass side by side, Rick says the two are nearly indistinguishable.

LawnLift says on its website that the paint is biodegradable and not harmful to pets or children and doesn’t rub off when wet. It can last from two weeks to six months, but in most cases three months, the website says.

But there are some hitches to its use, Rick says. No one, apparently, is offering the service around here. And he’s not ready to jump into the breach, because the painting is labor-intensive. And shipping charges on the paint make it even more expensive for individual people to order.

But Lynn figures neighbors could go in together to buy paint and minimize the shipping charges, and they could also go in together to buy an airless sprayer. Rick quickly found, after trying to apply the paint with a garden pump sprayer, that that would take forever. Even with the airless sprayer, it takes a while, he says, though he couldn’t say exactly how long — whenever people see him outside spraying, they stop to find out more.

For now, Rick is having fun with his experiment. He’s painted spots that browned out in his front yard along the hot curb and spots in the backyard where his dog has killed the grass. He’ll be interested to see how long the paint lasts on the various Eastborough lawns — and on the dead yews in his backyard. And he figures his neighbor could get a couple more years from her dead pine tree with some paint. (Acknowledging, of course, that if the cause of a pine’s death is pine wilt — which is showing up right now — the tree needs to be removed and destroyed to avoid the disease’s spread.)

Gayle says it would depend on how much someone would charge whether she would pay to have her lawn painted. But she’s delighted with the free paint job.

“It hides the weeds. It’s like putting paint on your wall.”

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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