By RICK CALLAHAN
INDIANAPOLIS - When this summer's drought turned her prized lawn brown, Terri LoPrimo fought back, but not with sprinklers: She had it painted green, making her suddenly lush-appearing yard the envy of her neighborhood.
The Staten Island, N.Y., resident and her husband, Ronnie, hired a local entrepreneur to spruce up their yard by spraying it with a deep-green organic dye. By Monday, the couple's property was aglow with newly green blades of grass and no watering needed to sustain it.
"It looks just like a spring lawn, the way it looks after a rain. It's really gorgeous," said LoPrimo, a 62-year-old retiree.
With two-thirds of the nation covered by a drought that stretches from coast to coast, residents and businesses in normally well-watered areas are catching on to the lawn-painting practice employed for years in the West and Southwest to give luster to faded turf.
LoPrimo paid $125 to green up her roughly 830-square-foot lawn. She said it was worth every penny to keep her home of 33 years graced by an attractive yard.
Neighbors and friends have complimented the LoPrimos on their lawn's appearance, and she said one envious friend asked for the number of their contractor, Joe Perazzo.
Perazzo, who teaches physical education at Brooklyn's High School of Sports Management, began painting lawns during his summer break three years ago. His Staten Island company, Grass Is Greener Lawn Painting, has touched up close to 20 lawns this summer, making it his best year to date.
"I'm booked solid for next week. If you look around, most of the lawns need some TLC," Perazzo said.
He charges 15 cents per square foot to spray on a non-toxic, environmentally friendly turf dye that he said is commonly used on golf courses and athletic fields to give them a lusher appearance.
Perazzo said the dyed lawns will hold their verdant look for a few months, in some cases up to five months.
"It's a night-and-day difference," he said. "People are amazed by how natural it looks."
Kansas City, Mo.-based Missouri Turf Paint Inc. has been selling latex turf paints for more than 40 years. Company president Jon Graves said his primary customers are golf courses looking to keep their greens attractive and athletic fields "getting ready for show time."
But he said he's seen a slight increase this year in calls from people interested in either greening up residential lawns or wanting to get into the lawn-painting business.
"We've had calls primarily from people saying 'Hey I think I'd like to do this for a business,' but we've also had them about houses in foreclosure, homes they want to look a little bit better," for potential buyers, he said.
In the frequently parched Phoenix area, Brian Howland has been painting lawns for about five years as a side business to his full-time job with a sign- and banner-making company.
Howland said he started Arizona Lawn Painting after the foreclosure crisis left scores of Phoenix-area homes empty and their lawns neglected. He charges $200 for up to 3,000 square feet, and more if there are numerous lawn features to paint around.
Some of his customers have been residents fearful that their homeowners' associations will penalize them for letting their lawns fade.
"Usually it's people who don't feel like messing with their yard or it's a rental or a foreclosure or a sale - something where before everything gets going they want it to look nice," he said.
A newer entrant into the lawn-painting business is Tim Birdwell, whose Imperial Painting normally paints Indianapolis-area homes and commercial properties. But this month, Birdwell painted his own desiccated lawn.
His first paying customer was a Meineke muffler shop on the south side of Indianapolis, which, like most of Indiana, is in the midst of an extreme drought.
Last Friday, two of Birdwell's workers sprayed the long strip of brown grass in front of the store with latex paint, creating an oasis of green in a suburban strip mall filled with faded grass.
Store manager Damon Riggles said Birdwell's price for the paint job - about $600 - was worth it because the vibrant-looking grass has attracted customers.
"It looks great," Riggles said. "It gave us some curb appeal and definitely got us some new customers' attention. And that's what we were hoping for."