Brushing away the brown

Painting grass keeps lawns green

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE?—Many local residents are embracing grass paint as a way to deal with the drought. Courtesy photos

As watering restrictions have turned once lush lawns into brown wastelands, Conejo Valley homeowners have started to get creative to preserve the look of their yards.

What started as a neighborhood business after the June 1 one-day-a-week outdoor watering order has now grown into a full-time job for 19-year-old “grass painter” Jackson Merrick of Agoura Hills.

“It kind of just spread like wildfire,” Merrick said of the turf paint phenomenon. “It’s been going pretty good. I’ve been doing it for about maybe 2.5 months. It’s almost an everyday job.”

Merrick’s first customer was his dad, Jack. He’s since serviced homeowners in Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Woodland Hills.

Depending on the size of the request, Merrick can usually paint two lawns per day.

His trick: “Masking everything, covering up the sidewalk, trees, rocks or fountains, or whatever isn’t grass.”

“That’s the tedious part that requires a lot of time,” Merrick said. “Then there’s just the painting afterward.”

Jackson Merrick of Agoura Hills has turned the grass paint boom into a thriving business. Courtesy photo

The young entrepreneur buys the nontoxic paint online and uses a simple spray pump to apply, charging between $150 to $1,000, depending on the lawn’s size. One gallon of the pigment costs $100 and covers 5,000 square feet.

The paint, which is generally made from pulverized kaolin, a soft stone, or decaying plants, lasts for about two months.

Because it is a pigment and not technically a paint, the substance doesn’t block the sun from reaching the grass nor does it seep into the blades of grass and cause damage.

Landscaping company Permagreen Landscaping in Newbury Park has also noticed an increased demand for grass paint—even though they don’t offer it, CEO Kaster Choi said.

Before the watering restrictions, the company would receive a call every few years requesting lawn paint. This summer, they’ve been receiving three or four calls every month.

While the coloring can work as a bandage, it’s not a long-term solution, Choi said.

“Eventually, the grass just turns to dust. It just becomes dirt after a little while,” he said. “It’s not the most economical way to go about it. It’ll get you by for a while, but eventually you have to bite the bullet and do something to the lawn in order to give it a presentable look.”

As an alternative to painting their lawns, homeowners should consider solutions such as “desert scaping,” which replaces the grass with drought-tolerant plants, Choi said.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offers a rebate program for homeowners ready to make the switch.

COSMETIC—Bill Geddes applies lawn paint to his family’s front yard near Westlake Lake. The product has exploded in popularity locally since the start of the one-a-day-a-week watering mandate. The nontoxic substance is generally made from either pulverized kaolin, a soft stone, or decaying plants. While it is 100% safe and can improve the look of a lawn, experts say it’s only a temporary fix. Courtesy photo

But fully committing to a desert scape is challenging for those who have grown accustomed to having a green lawn.

Elisa Bell, a homeowner on Westlake Lake, dedicated half her lawn to desert scaping but was wary about covering the entire yard in mulch and drought-tolerant plants.

Bell and her husband, Bill Geddess, opted to use grass paint for the other half after the watering restrictions went into effect.

Passersby have asked whether she knows of the watering order after seeing the grass. She has had to explain that her lawn is actually dead.

“It’s just funny all the different things people do,” Bell said. “I get a lot of comments . . . but you know, to each his own. If you’re happy with a dead lawn, great.”

With Bell’s neighbors using reclaimed water or installing fake grass, the idea of using paint doesn’t seem too crazy, she said.

“First of all, I find dead grass depressing,” Bell said. “And second of all, I liken it to women dyeing their hair. Some women are fine with gray hair. Some people dye their hair. I dye my lawn.”