The extreme drought plaguing more than 70 percent of Illinois is taking its toll on local lawn and landscaping business owners as they face reduced hours and a decrease in customers.
Jeff Walker, owner of Walker's Lawn and Landscaping, said the reduction in business this summer could range from 30 percent to 50 percent because the drought has caused many customers to wait until fall for landscaping work.
"We never recovered from the dry conditions last year, and the ground content is the driest I've ever seen it," Walker said, adding that they found soil to be dry 4 feet below the ground during a job earlier in the summer.
The 33-year-old business usually closes for two weeks in August, as the workload slows before fall, but Walker anticipates extending the closure another week or so this year because of the drought.
Gary Waltrip, owner of Waltrip Lawn and Landscape, said he has seen a 30 percent to 40 percent decrease in renovations and new plantings this summer. Most of the work has been weeding, trimming bushes and cutting brush, he said.
"In my 60 years of living out here, this is probably the worst drought I've seen," said Waltrip, who started his business about 34 years ago. "The drought in 1988 was tough, but at least it was cooler because we had more cold fronts without rain."
The drought also has put stress on workers whose hours are cut because of the heat, he said.
At Naturescapes, workers begin at 6 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, and work eight-hour days instead of 10-hour days, owner Sandra Talbert said.
"We have probably had a good 25 percent reduction in business with this drought, due to people not even being interested in planting new plants," she said.
New trees are also in low demand this summer, said Elwin Tree Farm owner John Ropp, adding that they will not plant any new trees until the first week of September, and they water about 10,000 trees through a drip-line irrigation system at the farm.
"Trees require a lot of work, and there has been an additional expense this year to keep the trees alive," Ropp said. "I expect we will lose some trees to this drought, but I can't give a prognosis on what the trees will do."
Many trees are going into an early hibernation state, as the drought has caused their fall colors to emerge, he said.
Even though the drought has deterred landscapers from providing new plants, businesses have found other ways to cope.
Kevin McSherry, owner of From the Ground Up Landscapes, said they have not lost much business because the dry conditions allowed them to start many "hardscaping" jobs, such as retaining walls and building outdoor patio and kitchen areas.
"We want to make sure we keep work from coming to a halt during this weather, and a lot could change if water restrictions become more strict," McSherry said.
Decatur implemented mandatory water restrictions July 25, including only watering lawns and vegetation more than six months old on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
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