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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With half the nation in the midst of a historic drought, the scenery is looking bleak for landscaping businesses. Governments across the country have been restricting water use, causing business to dry up for landscaping companies that have been left unable to water lawns and gardens. The turf industry in Colorado has laid off at least 50 percent of its 2,000 employees because of the worst drought since record-keeping began in 1890, said Brian Ridnour, president of the Rocky Mountain Sod Growers Association. "This is going to wipe a lot of people out," Ridnour said. On the East Coast, "a lot of our members are praying for hurricane season," said Melanie Hinkle of the American Nursery and Landscape Association. This summer, 49 percent of the contiguous United States is in moderate to extreme drought, according to the Palmer Drought Index, a widely used measure of drought severity. Landscapers say the restrictions are unfair because other industries that rely on water, including car washes, often don't face the same limits. They say no industry is more environmentally conscious than landscaping. "Our industry has been out there since the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. For the most part we are very, very conscious about the environment," said Jamie Jameson, whose family has operated Brandywine Nurseries in Wilmington, Del., for 50 years. In Rockland County, N.Y., just north of New York City, all lawn watering has been banned. Matt Horn, owner of Matteron Nursery, said he was even told he couldn't use water from his own wells. "At the beginning of this year we were facing no watering of any of our plants," he said. "Our association and myself had to fight it. They were going to put us out of business." Horn won some concessions, but to stay in business he has had to send his crew to work in other states. "We have to work harder for the same amount of money. My profits are less because my overhead is higher," he said. In Denver, where all lawn watering must stop Oct. 1, some homeowners are taking to heart a humorous save-water campaign urging them to brush every other tooth and spray-paint lawns. Sales of a vegetable dye usually used by golf courses and sports stadiums to paint turf green are up. Ridnour and Jameson, both of whom have worked closely with state and local officials to find solutions to water problems, say restrictions that inhibit the installation of new grass are short-sighted. They say the amount of water involved is very small, and plants are a big asset during droughts. "The use of water by the plant has quite a cooling effect on the environment. Urban area temperatures are cooler if there are large areas of turf and trees," said Tony Koski, a turf scientist at Colorado State University. Plants need at least one growing season and regular watering to establish their root systems, making the planting of new gardens or turf difficult while watering is restricted. A few landscapers are taking advantage of drought. John Probeck, owner of Western Proscape, is making money replacing turf with landscaped gardens in the Denver area. His clients, which have ranged from the Pepsi Center to a Home Depot, are learning from Colorado's history of drought. "It doesn't mean 'rocking' yards. It doesn't have to be ugly," said Probeck. "Forty acres of turf on a commercial site is asinine. Our biggest hurdle in talking with clients is persuading them that there is an alternative to bluegrass." Some substitutes even bear a reasonable resemblance to bluegrass, but require far less water, particularly in the summer when water demand is highest. Homeowners do have to get used to lawns that are green in the spring and fall but not in the summer, though. Rob Proctor, director of horticulture at the Denver Botanic Gardens, said landscaping that requires intensive watering "is going to go out with the dinosaurs." He supports xeriscaping, which involves minimizing the use of water beyond natural rain or snowfall. Much of Colorado is semiarid and cannot support plants from other climates, said Proctor. "People need to embrace change," he said. "Some people are so stuck in what they think is beautiful they cannot even cope with a different looks. For them it has to be green grass and foundation shrubs. This is a time for Colorado to start looking like Colorado instead of a pallid imitation of the East Coast." On the Net: American Nursery and Landscape Association http://www.anla.org National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: http://www.drought.noaa.gov Copyright (c) 2002, The Associated Press

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October 23, 2019, 10:03 pm PDT

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