Published September 08, 2012
The grass is always greener on Jackson Madnick’s lawn in Wayland, Mass.: green in a drought and green when it emerges from under the snow. Yet, he barely waters and mows it, and he never uses chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
It sounds too good to be true, but Madnick may have grown a better lawn.
After more than ten years of experimenting with thousands of seeds, he cultivated Pearl’s Premium -- a specific mix of red fescue, tall fescue, sheep fescue and other grasses. When combined in special proportions adjusted for sun, shade and sunny-shade, his blends produce deep green, thin-blade ground cover that's hardy yet soft to the touch.
“I almost didn't water it this year,” Phyllis Kominz from Massachusetts told FoxNews.com. Kominz has been using Pearl’s Premium for about three years and describes it as an “elegant” grass. “I mow it once a month, and my daughter never mows it because they’re too busy.”
It’s all in the grassroots, Madnick told FoxNews.com. Pearl’s Premium develops 12- to14-inch roots and pulls water from underground, meaning it requires a quarter as much water as comparable grasses. David Gordon from Newton Organic Lawn has been installing Pearl’s Premium for his clients for the past three years. He says it's far easier to care for than other grasses as well.
“It grows slow so you only have to mow it every four or six weeks,” he said. “And if you don’t mow it, it flips over and becomes a meadow.”
Madnick began experimenting with different grasses because he wanted to create environmentally sustainable lawns. “I took a weekend course on water management and learned that the number one enemy of ponds is fertilizer,” he told FoxNews.com. He wanted a healthy alternative to a chemically-maintained lawn -- deemed one of the "most toxic areas in your home" by Health Magazine.
Madnick’s initial attempts at growing grass with little water and no fertilizer and pesticides didn’t work. “A year and a half later almost all the grass was dead,” he recalled. “Except for desert grasses, which are variations of cactus, very prickly. You wouldn’t want to walk on them with bare feet.”
Madnick gathered thousands of grass samples and started growing seed mixes rather than individual varieties. For years, his yard looked like a science lab with rows of little containers sprouting grass combos of various colors, textures and qualities.
“My significant other -- Betsy West -- insisted we keep it out of the house, so I did it all on the patio,” he said. “I was doing it in relative secrecy. I didn’t want to look like a mad scientist.” He logged the proportions of every trial blend before narrowing his selection down to seven grass types that produced an emerald-green color, felt soft and were drought and disease resistant.
He named his creation after his daughter Pearl. “It took eight years before I sold my first bag of seeds,” he said.
Home Depot began selling Pearl’s Premium online last year. “We don't have extensive information in regards to customer data, but we've seen some positive feedback,” Jennifer King, the company’s public relations rep, told FoxNews.com. “We’re pleased with the results so far as Pearl’s is performing well online versus other grass seeds.”
Madnick admits he isn’t sure why the concoction works so well except that the right proportions is key. “It’s not genetic engineering,” he said, adding that his product is best described as a symbiotic plant system. “Different varieties support each other.”
Another key factor is installation, which requires organic fertilizer and sufficient initial watering for germination. Alex Wilson, an editor of BuildingGreen.com, says his first install on a particular tough patch under a tree didn’t work, but he plans to try again.
“The problem might have been inadequate irrigation when it was first planted,” he said. “We had an exceptionally dry spell after I planted it and I don't think I watered enough to get it established.”
Mark Runk, a California landscaper of 40 years, installed Pearl’s Premium on a test patch ten days ago. He says it’s too early to tell, but so far the grass is progressing as expected. “It’s coming out nice and green,” he said. “I just look forward to seeing the water savings and lower maintenance.”
He hopes that the product can make a difference on the West Coast, where droughts, high water prices and often poor soil conditions make lawn care difficult. “I think it can be the thing of the future here,” he said.