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Do Your Neighbors Paint Their Lawns Green? Increasingly, Yes
The niche business of painting drab grass is growing like weeds, as people try to save money and water
Ruben Alonso and his son started a lawn-mowing business during the pandemic. He then expanded into lawn painting. VIDEO: ALAWNSO SERVICES
By Eliza Collins, WSJ
March 20, 2023 10:25 am ET
GILBERT, Ariz.—Mike Landers enjoys taking his dog, Luci, for walks along the lush communal grass in the Islands, the master-planned neighborhood where he lives. This year, the grass looks particularly verdant. It’s been painted.
“Could you tell? It looks like green grass,” said Mr. Landers, who is 69, and came from Minnesota, adding that Luci doesn’t seem to mind.
Creating a green lawn has long been considered artistry, and perhaps now more than ever: More people are turning to paint.
In just moments, wilting, yellowing grass suddenly looks like it belongs on the fairways of St. Andrews. Painted lawns are becoming more popular as inflation-strained households try to save money, drought complicates water usage and severe storms have brought ice and freezing rain to swaths of the South, turning lawns a blah brown. This niche business sector has grown, well, like weeds, with lots of landscapers, professional training and an array of shades to choose from.
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Not everyone is a fan of painted grass. “I don’t like it. It’s wintertime, it should be brown,” said Don Ossian, 65, another resident of the Islands community, who is originally from Iowa. He said his dog, Jedidiah, got green paint on his paws.
Mr. Ossian’s dog’s walk could have been poorly timed. Tim Gavelek, who sells the turf colorant to the landscaping company that works at the Islands, said paint dries within a few hours and is safe for pets.
While Mr. Gavelek’s lawn-care company, Fertizona, has been selling green lawn paint for a decade, he said he is getting far more calls this year from landscaping companies, homeowner associations and residents curious about painting, in an effort to cut down on expenses and save water.
In Arizona there have been no limits on outdoor water usage in residential areas, unlike California. But cities such as Gilbert and Phoenix have warned restrictions could come if drought worsens. Scottsdale is trying to get residents to switch out lawns with water-saving landscaping by offering rebates.
Nick Perez, the representative at landscaping company BrightView who negotiated the contract with the Islands, said the neighborhood was looking to save, but wanted to keep up lawn appearances. “They want lush,” he said.
At the Islands, BrightView sprayed 17 acres with an emerald color made to look like golf courses. The move is estimated to save the community $70,000 in water costs that would have kept the grass naturally green, according to Mr. Perez. The Islands declined to comment.
Painting can cut down on water usage because grass doesn’t need to be alive. Dormant grass, that dry yellow stuff that shows up once the lawn stops being watered or is unhappy with temperature, can hang onto paint.
Brian Howland, 53, who paints yards in the Phoenix area part-time with his son, said you can get a dormant lawn to look realistic with paint, for an average cost of $250 to $350. The only problem is, it doesn’t feel as good as it looks.
People say “ ‘Wow the yard looks amazing’ and you take a step and it goes ‘crunch,’ ” he said.
Mr. Howland switched paints after testing out a brand that left some lawns blue after the yellow pigment burned off in the sun.
In Houston, Ruben Alonso, 43, and his son Ru, 21, started a mowing business, Alawnso Services, after Mr. Alonso was laid off during the pandemic. Then a client asked to have his lawn painted, and Mr. Alonso branched into that, doing 100 lawn-painting jobs in the winter of 2022 and now keeping up a busy pace. He says he has trained at least 20 other people to start similar businesses.
His teenage daughter, Jenavi, posted a TikTok of an early job featuring Mr. Alonso painting the grass as the background voice debates if people will be able to spot a fake. The video took off once he began interacting with his audience and views now total 3.7 million. He thinks people get satisfaction watching something go from “ugly to pretty,” though he said a way for a video to go viral is to post a mistake, such as paint splashing onto a sidewalk.
“People love commenting that you got paint on a piece of wood, on the wall,” he said. Even though the father-son duo are much more experienced now, Mr. Alonso said he’ll still occasionally lean in and post a video of a mishap, thinking, “Let me just throw them a bone.”
Geoponics Corp. makes popular pigments including “Fairway,” a dark green which it says has a “see it from the moon” effect and “Perennial Rye,” inspired by golf courses of Augusta, Ga. Brad Driggers, a sales manager, travels the country helping paint users understand the correct mixing ratios. He said landscaping companies or golf course turf managers may use tractors with long attachments to spray big areas, while a person at home could use a gallon jug with a small attachment.
“We have a very good product but the application is half the battle…if it’s not applied right then it’s not gonna look right,” he said. “We don’t want anybody to know it’s painted.”
Ozzie Sattler, 70, a retired radio broadcaster in Phoenix, gets his lawn professionally painted in summer, sometimes shocking his neighbors. “Because one day it’ll be yellow and the next day it’s green,” he said.
The world of sports has long engaged in lawn painting for aesthetics. When you turn on TV to watch a golf tournament or football game, you’re often looking at painted grass. TPC Scottsdale, the course which held the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, was painted to enhance and protect the blades for what has been nicknamed “the Greenest Show on Grass,” said Brandon Reese, director of agronomy at TPC. (Professional ice rinks are also painted white.)
Some homeowners paint their lawns green to satisfy neighborhood critics. Who needs a green thumb if you’ve got green paint?
Jenn Poist, 46, a YouTube content creator who posts under the name Raptor Adventures says neighbors in Spring Hill, Fla., were bugging her about what they deemed a lawn unworthy of the neighborhood.
Ms. Poist didn’t want to add chemicals or fertilizers to her lawn over fear of harming wild animals. She bought a nontoxic green spray paint.
“That’s a good alternative because it will get them off our back,” she said.
David Steele, 73, a retiree from Phoenix, started painting his lawn with the intention of turning it into a local business, but he quickly realized pigment couldn’t save a bad yard and scaled back his ambitions.
Mr. Steele said a lawn needs to be prepared before it can be painted for best results. Some clients started asking him to remove weeds and mow their lawns first. He said he didn’t want to end up as a landscaper. Now, he only paints for friends and family who have well-maintained yards to start with.
“I’m very particular. The canvas has to be nice or you just don’t get the results that someone else may expect,” Mr. Steele said.
Still, he’s not perfect and keeps a rag in his pocket and Windex nearby in case any paint gets onto the sidewalk. A little dab and it’s all cleared up.
Louise Radnofsky & Natalie Andrews contributed to this article.