ELLERBE — Rain is the enemy of a sandhills cemetery. It washes away the soil and even the most tenacious of grasses, disturbing the beauty of what is meant to be a tranquil resting place.
And that’s exactly what it has been doing at Ellerbe’s town cemetery, prompting a smattering of relatives of those interred there to ask Mayor Lee Berry to do something.
“We just had some people wonder about beautification” of the cemetery, Berry said Wednesday — “finding out why we’re not growing grass.”
To determine that — and, perhaps, ways to fix it — Berry toured the cemetery Monday with Richmond County Extension agent Paige Burns, who specializes in horticulture. The two used a boring tool to take soil samples.
When they returned, Burns sent about a cup and a half of soil to the N.C. Department of Agriculture, seeking advice on how to promote a lush lawn from the scraggles of centipede now struggling to cover the acreage.
“Cemeteries are tough places to maintain in the best of situations,” Burns said. They’re even tougher when steady rains create erosion, especially in the Sandhills.
“I took soil samples to see what the recommendations would be for lime and fertilizer,” she said. Lime would help lower the soil’s high acidity and balance its pH. Fertilizer — something potassium based — would help grass grow. Burns theorized that phosphorus also might be required to maintain healthy growth.
“This is the busiest time of the year” for soil testing, Burns said, so the NCDA may not make any recommendations for months.
When the recommendations do come back, they’re likely to provoke sticker shock.
Mayor Berry figures the town will need to spend about $5,000 to rejuvenate the cemetery grounds.
It has not budgeted that money, each year setting aside $2,500 for cemetery maintenance, with that whole amount usually spent just mowing the 10-acre lot. Mowing happens twice a month in the summertime.
But the money will have to come from somewhere. Perhaps, Berry said Wednesday, the city will have to divert a higher portion of plot sales toward maintenance and away from the general fund. Plots now cost $300 for Ellerbe residents and $600 for nonresidents.
“That’s something we need to run by the commission,” he said. That could happen at the next regular meeting, the first Monday of March. Or, perhaps, during a special meeting called within a few days.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]