Now that the blanket of snow has been gone for a few weeks, we have a good idea of how our lawns fared winter’s lockdown. While some lawns have emerged full of dark green vigor – aided in part by cool temperatures and some late snowy gifts of nitrogen – others are patchy, like the one in the photo. In the following paragraphs, let’s think about how to get these lawns back on track.
To get started, let’s take a birds-eye view on the climatology for the past 12 months. There were three significant challenges that lawns faced: moisture, heat wave, more moisture and then frozen leaves.
The first challenge we had was moisture. As a green professional who has experienced his share of droughts in the end of the last century, I don’t think I’ll ever complain about too much moisture. Yet moisture can bring difficulties with its blessings. The chief difficulty is that it not only nourishes the plants, it also lubricates the soil. So while the plants are growing, the soil structure is being weakened.
Growing grass requires foot and vehicle traffic – for regular mowing – so the soil is at an increased risk of compaction. With last year’s incessant rain, it was impossible to stay off lawns until they dried out, because they rarely did.
Second, although you probably forget it by now, in the days surrounding July 4, we had a strong enough heat wave to induce dormancy in many lawns. So to protect themselves from the heat stress, some lawns went to sleep. But sleeping lawns don’t fight weeds or insects well. And summer dormancy, particularly in chemically treated lawns, is the perfect time for grubs and crabgrass to thrive.
Third, right before the final leaf drop which occurs around Thanksgiving, we had a plowable snow that did not melt until nearly December. This pressed and froze leaves into the not-yet-dormant lawns. Areas of turf that did not technically get “snow mold” may have suffocated, particularly in muddy areas where the leaves stuck and froze directly to the soil.
So if your lawn suffered from any of these causes, what should you do?
First, if you have compaction, you need to aerate your lawn. Not just a token aeration where the guy zips through and makes a hole every four to six inches. No, you need someone to use the aerator as a rototiller under the grass.
Second, if you have Japanese beetle grubs – likely case – do not order more toxic insecticides. Instead, use the long-term biological treatment called Milky Spore.
Third, don’t be a rental farmer and continue to deplete the soil by using chemicals to push more growth. Give your newly seeded lawn, shrubs and trees – they all root there – the gift of natural soil amendments that improve soil structure and provide both major and micro-nutrients.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.