- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Washington-area lawn service companies, after weeks of chasing Mother Nature, finally are catching up.

It has taken one company almost two weeks to get its customers’ lawns trim and healthy. One store owner said she has seen tornadoes, hurricanes and severe droughts, but nothing as bad as the rains of June.

“In the 20 years that I’ve been working here, this has been the wettest season,” said Michelle Miller of Fairfax-based Super Lawns. “The rain has caused us major headaches.”

Because wet ground can’t be mowed, seeded or aerated, the weeks of rain this spring have slowed business, she said. Some residents went three weeks without upkeep.

“Customers are starting to understand that it is impossible to work in wet weather,” Mrs. Miller said.

One customer had 6 inches of water that his elaborate French drains could not handle.

Now that more than a week of dry weather has graced lawns, she said, some yards are showing dry spots.

“All we needed was that one good week of sun. We’re not at drought levels, but some areas are turning different colors,” Mrs. Miller said.

Betty’s Azaleas, a landscaping company in Fairfax, said business dropped about 15 percent because of the extreme weather conditions.

“We have such a weather-driven industry, when it rains 14 weeks in a row, sales go down,” said owner Steve Cockerham.

Dan Hume of Dan’s Lawn and Landscaping in Beltsville said his staff of 12 was working constantly last week. After the initial rush for upkeep, the last few days have been calm.

“We’ve had to do more erosion control because of the rain,” but business is returning to normal, Mr. Hume said.

Homeowners weren’t the only ones who had to wait out the weeks of rain. The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, which is responsible for more than 500 acres of land, pays companies nearly $2 million a year to maintain the city’s ball fields. The department spends about $750,000 a year on mowing and about $1.2 million on landscaping.

“In this region, they’ve had some difficulty keeping the grass at optimum level,” Mr. Hume said, adding that outdoor athletic teams are eager to resume their schedules after the bad weather.

One of the biggest problems with heavy rain is insufficient drainage. Also, heavy equipment can damage wet lawns, Mrs. Miller said.

“But the city landscape is different,” she said.

Yards in the city, which are surrounded by concrete and sophisticated drainage systems, handle rain better than those in the countryside, Mrs. Miller said.

Unlike the sprawling land in residential and public areas, urban yards and rooftop gardens are doing well, one design and landscape company said.

“The rain is depressing for us but OK for planting shrubs and container-grown plants,” said Virginia Liberatore, landscape designer for Garden District in Northwest.

The wet weather helps the exotic plants that are popular with the Dupont, Logan’s Circle and Columbia Park neighborhoods, the areas primarily served by Garden District.

“By and large, our clientele are relatively young,” said Garden District owner and landscape designer Joe Carmack, who opened his business last year. “Areas here are exploding with young homeowners who want to use their yard as an outdoor living space.”

All these city yards, sprawling lawns and rooftop gardens are controlled by a single hand.

“And she’s unpredictable,” Mrs. Miller said. “But that’s why they call her Mother Nature.”

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