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Lawn Care in the Suburbs Low on the List of Drought Concerns

September 7, 1995

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ You mow. You fertilize. You pull weeds. And what do you get? A brown, crunchy mess instead of a showcase lawn in the suburbs.

Lawn-and-garden burnout is spreading across the drought-stricken Northeast. New Jersey, which hasn’t seen more than a couple of light rains for a month, went through its second-driest September-to-August of the past century.

In Cinnaminson, insurance company manager Eleanor St. Clair says the field where she walks her dog is so dry, ``I crunch when I walk along.″

The Rev. James Egan, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in East Windsor, near Princeton, jokes that his church’s lawn is a ``nice shade of brown.″

Many Northeast communities trying to preserve water have prohibited or limited lawn sprinkling. A few towns and utilities have also banned watering gardens with hoses.

``The lawn has never looked so bad,″ says Dennis Lafer of East Brunswick, where people can only water lawns on either odd or even dates. ``I’m hoping it’ll come back once the drought conditions abate.″

Lawn care experts say it will.

``Seeing that there are water restrictions, it’s best to sit tight,″ says Paul Mackinson of Savalawn in Union. ``The grass will naturally go dormant to protect itself.″

He recommends waiting until rain finally comes, then fertilizing the lawn, aerating it or at least turning the soil, and seeding it so grass will out-muscle the crabgrass next spring.

Some people aren’t all that bothered by lackluster lawns.

Arlene Vetter of Willingboro, a manager for several nonprofit organizations, says she and her neighbors are watering just enough to save their bushes and flowers.

``Lawns are really at the bottom of the list,″ she says. ``There are other more important things to worry about.″

Others point to at least one benefit of the drought.

``I’ve cut the lawn once in the last four weeks,″ says John Prunetti of Ewing Township, assistant director of the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits. ``Where it’s bothering me is, I’m a golfer and it’s ruining the grass of golf courses. ... It’s so dry balls are just rolling forever.″

Sonja Eveslage of Wyncote, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, says her son broke his leg recently and wouldn’t be be able to mow anyway.

Not everyone has had to watch the grass beneath their feet die a slow death.

Angela Suchanic, who lives in Langhorne, Pa., has her yard planted with zoysia, a wiry grass designed for warm, dry climates.

Her lawn’s condition?

``Wonderful, absolutely no problem,″ she says. ``We mow once a week and the grass is growing strong.″

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