NEWS RELEASE, 11/23/98

Californians pay huge bill to keep their yards, landscaping beautiful, according to UC Berkeley report

By Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- Californians now spend so much to maintain their yards and other landscaping around the state each year that the bill adds up to nearly $10 billion, almost half as much as California farms spend to produce the state's entire food crop, according to a new UC Berkeley report.

The average amount each California household spends to maintain lawns and landscaping is $310 per year, the report found. Together with what it costs to groom other planted areas in the state, such as parks and schools, all told a whopping $9.7 billion is spent annually in California on "environmental horticulture": potted plants from Home Depot, fertilizer, tools, water and everything else that goes into making yards, schools and parks beautiful.

"California, we think, is high in terms of per capita horticulture spending because of the climate, a longer growing season coupled with lack of water, plus the wealth in the state," said UC Berkeley's George Goldman, a cooperative extension economist and co-author on the new report.

Other authors on the report were UC Berkeley Assistant Research Economist Scott R. Templeton and Assistant Professor of Agriculture Cheryl Brown of Southeast Missouri State University, a UC Berkeley graduate student when the data was gathered.

Agriculture, or raising plants for food, is traditionally considered one of California's main economic engines. Often overlooked, however, is the impact of its sister plant industry, "environmental horticulture," a once small but now booming industry that includes ornamentals and landscaping but excludes cultivation of fruits and vegetables for home consumption.

About 54 percent of the money homeowners spent on backyard horticulture went for do-it-yourself work ; 35 percent went to professional lawn care, landscape and tree services; and the remaining 11 percent paid for water, mostly in California's dry late spring, summer and early fall months. Eight out of every ten California households had a planted yard.

"Contract gardening is up," said Goldman. "No wonder we see paid gardeners scooting all over the neighborhoods these days."

The rest of the state's landscaping expenses went for parks, school yards, roadways, cemeteries, golf courses, zoos and the like.

Here the cost per landscaped acre varied widely, with cemeteries proving much more costly to maintain than parks and schools.

"We spend more on the dead than we do on the living," said Goldman. "We were surprised at that. Studies of expenditure per acre have really never been done before in California, so this is the first time we're getting a look at these numbers."

"You don't want to go visit a deceased loved one and the place looks terrible," co-author Templeton said in explaining the high price of cemeteries. "Few people will tolerate badly neglected cemeteries, but not everyone keeps their yard up."

This also explains the priciness of zoos. Besides sometimes requiring exotic habitats for the comfort of animals, in general "people expect the grounds to look really nice, it's part of the zoo experience," Templeton said.

Not surprisingly, the cost was dear for the state's botanical gardens and arboreta, about $12,000 per acre to secure and protect their often rare plants.

This compares to nearly $7,900 per acre for cemeteries, just over $5,000 per acre for private residential yards and golf courses, $4,500 per acre for roads and $3,100 per acre for parks.

Ranking nearly dead last, only $2,800 per acre was spent to beautify and add grassy ball fields and shade trees to the state's K-12 school playgrounds and yards. Only land under electric power lines received less money from the state, according to data for all planted areas the report studied.

Data in the new report came from a variety of sources, including the UC Berkeley-augmented 1996 National Gardening Association household survey; UC Berkeley mail surveys to the California Department of Transportation and various schools, cemeteries, arboreta and zoos; a variety of other benchmark surveys; and other previously published surveys from UC Berkeley and elsewhere.

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