Green industry struggles as drought tightens grip on New England

Updated Aug 24, 2016

dead-grass-droughtThe drought that is affecting all six New England states has stressed lawns and plants, and in turn has left landscaping companies stressed as well.

In Buffalo, New York, which is currently in an extreme drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Elbers Landscape Service Inc. has faced extra costs due to higher water bills and the additional labor necessary to care for the plants at its garden center.

Company owner Jim Hornung has also opted to hold off on bigger projects and wait for some moisture to arrive in the fall.

“If you’re moving a lot, thousands of yards of soil or even 50 yards of soil in your yard, it’s very difficult to move that because it’s dust,” Hornung told “It just doesn’t hold together.”

Hornung knows that both old and young trees are currently struggling and some plants will die before the drought is over, but he hopes to keep most alive.

“If you can mulch the top of your plants and get moisture down below that mulch, it will keep the sun from scorching that soil,” he said.

Water is also a concern at Murray Brothers Nurseries and Garden Center in Orchard Park, New York. The nursery uses nearby ponds to water the shrubs, trees and plants. The nursery’s manager, Kim Schichtel, says water levels have never been so low in her 21 years with the company.

“It seems as if we spend all day watering,” she told The Buffalo News. “But you can’t sell dead plants. We water here every day, sometimes twice a day.”

If the ponds dry up, the nursery plans to switch to a well that hasn’t been touched in 30 years.

The lack of rain coupled with above average summer temperatures has dried out soil that was already drier than normal due to a mild winter. Since the soil has baked into concrete-hard terrain, what little rain Western New York has received has simply run off rather than soaking into the ground.

“Fertilize and water is all you can do at this point,” said Rebecca Doel of Lincoln Park Nursery. “Hopefully everything will pull through.”

In Rhode Island, landscapers are encountering more problems with pleasing their customers due to the drought.

“I tell people all the time, but 90 percent of the people I deal with don’t even care,” Erik Ellis, owner of Kingsley Tree and Landscape Service in Rockville, Rhode Island, told The Westerly Sun. “They just want everything to look nice, and it’s hard to explain why something doesn’t look nice.”

The northern half of the state is in a severe drought while the southern portion is classified as in a moderate drought. The Rhode Island Drought Steering Committee has already agreed that current conditions meet all four indices to mark a drought and Gov. Gina Raimondo has issued a statewide drought advisory asking residents to conserve water.

Some towns have already restricted outdoor water use to certain days. Trees are suffering from the drought more than most plants, as they had to deal with winter moth and gypsy moth infestations earlier in the year.

“There’s so many factors going on,” said Paul Neri of Shoreline Landscaping in Narragansett, Rhode Island. “We’ve got drought affecting everything. The most obvious is the lawns. Everyone’s brown. The next is the heat stress. We always have some heat, but we’ve had prolonged exposure and very warm nights, so we’re starting to see fungus from the humidity, coupled with all the damage from the gypsy moths and the winter moths.”

Fungi, like dollar-spot fungus, has been able to thrive on lawns due to the frequent humidity, but landscapers expect to see this disappear once they move into the cooler months of fall.

For most companies, the only thing they can do is watch and wait for the rain to come.

The Attachments Idea Book
Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
Attachments Idea Book Cover