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Grass for People Who Dont Want to Mow It

Synthetic lawn appeals to those yearning for greenery without the workRutherford

With spring just two weeks away, Jeff Mitnick, president of JM Synthetic Grass Surfacing in Rutherford, is preparing for a busy season laying down artificial grass designed to look like the real thing. “The installations that we do are mostly at the end of March and before Christmas,” Mitnick says.

His target customers are homeowners who dread the notion of trimming their lawns and treating them with fertilizer to maintain their green appeal. “They would not have to use their time maintaining it once it’s down,” Mitnick says of his grass substitute.

Commercial clients include day care centers, athletic facilities and gas stations. At Wonder Years, a day care center in Egg Harbor, Mitnick rolled out 15,000 sq. ft. of faux lawn.

The 3-year-old company installs a polyethylene turf that mimics the look of true blades of grass. Installation includes a layer of black sand that resembles dirt and keeps the synthetic blades upright. The sand layer adds weight to the grass and 12-inch spikes nail the lawn down at the corners for residential installations. For day care centers, a fine rubber infill replaces sand to add cushioning to protect children at play.

The business has four full-time employees, and expands to 10 during the busy season. Revenues topped $1 million last year.

Mitnick’s product is porous to avoid flooding problems and is engineered to have a softness similar to natural grass. At first glance JM synthetic grass looks like the real deal down to the varied flexible green blades. “The benefit is there are no bugs and no animals digging holes,” he says. “Animals have no place to dig. The yard stays nice all the time.”

The fake lawn comes with a 10-year warranty. Mitnick says the product will not fade, and leaves can be removed by raking or with a leaf blower. Any animal droppings can be scooped up and the lawn can be washed down with a garden hose, he says.

Mitnick, 59, founded the company in 2003 after an artificial-grass company he had been working for folded. His son Jason, 37, holds the title of vice president.

The polyethylene grass costs $5.25 to $5.50 per sq. ft. for residential installations and up to $6.50 per sq. ft. for commercial clients. The grass is made at a plant in Georgia exclusively for the company. Mitnick pitches the long-term value of a low-maintenance lawn and says clients “don’t begrudge paying for it.” Each home installation takes about a day.

Mitnick calls his company’s grass an environmentally friendly way to keep homes green all year without watering and chemical treatments. “I don’t think it helps for people to pour chemicals on their property,” he says.

Fake grass raises questions in the minds of some turf experts. “Most folks will say if you have a well-landscaped property it will increase the value 10%,” says Brad Park, the sports turf education and research coordinator at Rutgers University’s Center for Turfgrass Science in New Brunswick. “If you put a piece of plastic down in front of your home, I don’t have the answer to that.” Mitnick believes no-maintenance evergreen lawns can add value to homes.

Park notes that “natural grass by its nature has a cooling effect, whereas with synthetic turf it is not unreasonable for them to reach temperatures well over 100 degrees.”

Mitnick says his product is unaffected by extreme weather. “I install this at day care centers. If there was a problem with the heat, I would have heard about it from the kids.”

Artificial grass has been around for more than 40 years and is used primarily on sports fields. The toughness of AstroTurf, one of the oldest synthetics, prevents athletes from churning up natural soil.

Newer artificial grasses like FieldTurf, used this year in Super Bowl XL, are replacing AstroTurf. FieldTurf is softer and more like natural grass than AstroTurf, and primarily designed for sporting venues. Mitnick says his product is geared toward everyday use. “FieldTurf is shorter grass than ours,” he says. “They don’t put any cushioning underneath.”

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