Lawns need care when snow melts

The deep layer of snow protected the plants and rodents from harsh winter temperatures. The plants are breaking dormancy unless they were eaten by the rodents.

The deep layer of snow protected the plants and rodents from harsh winter temperatures.

The plants are breaking dormancy unless they were eaten by the rodents.

The rodents burrowed under the snow and dug tunnels in the surface of lawns.

The tell-tale sign that rodents spent the winter on the lawn is loose shredded grass.

When raked, the grass falls away, leaving paths of soil. Where there was a small amount of damage, the grass will fill in the empty spots during the course of the season. In areas where the damage was extensive, spread topsoil over the area and re-seed.

Another common reason for the lawn to die back is dog urine and feces.

The urea content in the animal waste burns the grass and kills it. Given enough moisture, the urea will leach away into deeper soil and the grass will grow into the affected area. It can be a long process.

There are a couple of quicker alternatives — both involve removing the dead plant material and some of the topsoil.

Once the material is removed, the hole can be filled with clean top soil and seeded.

For quicker results, purchase sod and cut it to fit the hole. Make sure the soil is loose and carefully fit the sod on top.

Covering the edges with top soil will help prevent the edges of sod from drying out.

As the snow melts, white fuzz might be visible on top of the lawn surface. This is a fungus called snow mould. Treatment is simple: rake the area, breaking up the clumps.

All traces of the mould will disappear as the grass begins to grow.

Snow mould that is left intact can spread and kill the grass but this is rare.

Lawns are left on their own will green up but at slower rate than ones that have been raked, fertilized and aerated.

A healthy lawn will have approximately a half inch (one cm) of thatch or dry grass surrounding the crowns or plants.

The thatch shades the roots and provides some nutrients as they decompose. Too much thatch can choke the grass, making it difficult for this season’s grass to emerge. Too little thatch exposes the roots to fluctuating temperatures.

Raking by hand removes everything on the lawn surface, including some thatch. A power rake digs deeper and removes more thatch.

Lawns with low traffic do not need to be aerated every year.

A good test is to push a screwdriver in to the soil in a number of places.

If there is little or no resistance, the soil is not compacted and does not need to be aerated. Soils that are compacted benefit from aeration as it loosens the soil. A good aerator removes soil plugs from the lawn, leaving a multiple of small holes.

The holes will be visible for a few days but disappear as the soil spreads, filling in the holes and gaining small air pockets.

Roots spread quicker in loose soil and are able to gather more nutrients, resulting in healthier top growth.

Fertilizing a lawn in spring will also help it become green faster.

Choose a fertilizer that has some nitrogen, the first number in the formula, and a higher second number: potassium.

The nitrogen greens up the lawn and provides nutrients for the top growth. Potassium helps develop a strong root system that supports the plant, providing nutrients for top growth. A good root system is reflected in healthy top growth.

Spreading corn gluten meal on the lawn prevents seeds from germinating, reducing weeding and the need for chemicals.

The best time to kill weeds with chemicals is in the late fall. If spraying in the spring, wait until the weeds are visible and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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