Lawn Tips for Late Winter

Wow, it’s great to see the sun, feel the warmth and lose the heaps of snow in my front yard! Although 70 plus degrees in early March could result in problems later this spring, if plants come out of dormancy too soon. But, since there isn’t a great deal we can do about the weather, let’s focus instead on a few questions I’ve been getting from you in the last week. I can tell many of you are excited to get outside! Let’s start with the lawn.  

Too Early for Grub Control
First, realize it’s way too early to apply grub control or fertilizer. It’s only March! Don’t let the temperatures fool you.  

Grub control should be applied from June into early July. Mature grubs present now will not be controlled well by Merit (imidacloprid), Mach 2 (halofenozide) or Scott’s GrubEx (chlorantraniloprole) applications. These are preventative products which are very good at controlling the young grubs present in July and August, but not mature spring grubs. Plus, this is not a good time of year to apply chemicals. Grass is not actively growing yet and is matted in some instances. Some areas still have frozen soil. The chances of insecticides applied now being washed offsite by rain are very high. 

If you’re seeing wildlife damage in the lawn, realize this doesn’t necessarily indicate a grub problem. White grubs are a native insect and anything below 8-10 per square foot is a normal level. Raccoons, opossums and skunks can all cause turf damage looking for worms and other soil insects; they are not just going after grubs. Applying grub control in response to wildlife is not an effective means of control. Wildlife damage may be more common this year due to the almost nonexistent acorn crop last year, making wildlife search harder for other food sources. For more detailed information on managing wildlife damage, visit Wildlife.unl.edu.  

Snow Mold & Matted Grass 
We had a lot of snow this winter and our grass in many places is matted from the weight. We’re also seeing some gray snow mold where snow was piled.   

Snow mold damage, as pictured above, does not warrant a fungicide application. Damage is usually minor and grass will grow out of the damage on its own.
Remove matted tree leaves from the turf to allow sunlight to reach the grass. 

In most cases, simply raking out matted turf areas will open up the grass canopy, increase air circulation and allow the grass to begin recovering. No fungicide applications are recommended. Also rake up and remove any remaining matted tree leaves to allow sunlight to reach the turf. As soils warm, the grass will regrow naturally. Areas heavily affected by snow mold will benefit from light overseeding. 

It’s not necessary or recommended to mow the turf extra short to clean up the turf in spring. Begin mowing at your normal height, 2.5 to 3.5 inches for Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and cool-season blends, as soon as the grass needs it.  

Power raking matted turf is also not recommended. It’s an aggressive management tool and damaging to grass crowns. If power raking is needed to manage a thatch problem, wait until at least early to mid-April when grass is growing more actively and can quickly recover from the damage.   

Want to really understand what “thatch” is? Take a look at Thatch Prevention and Control.  

Voles
They have been very active under all those piles of snow this winter! Snow is a great protection from their many hungry predators. Many homeowners are now finding paths or runways of clipped grass throughout areas of their yards. I’ve had pictures of damage near a shed, a sidewalk, under a birdfeeder or, in one case, around the edges of a tarp pinned down over a garden. That was a perfect, warm, protected spot for voles last winter!  

Vole damage near a driveway

Prairie and meadow voles scar lawns by causing surface runways (one to two inches wide), where they clip grass very close to the roots. These runs lead to small entrance holes for underground runways or nesting areas. Runways are most visible right after snow melts.

Voles are small, mouse-like rodents that exist throughout Nebraska. Their short tails (about 1 inch long), stocky build and small eyes distinguish them from true mice.

Vole damage to lawns usually repairs itself during spring growth without any treatment or overseeding and is not permanent. Their feeding on grass blades usually doesn’t extend to the grass crowns, so new leaf blades will appear once plants begin growing actively. The damage will disappear in a few weeks.

Vole damage is costliest when they strip off the tender thin bark layer of trees and shrubs during winter. This gnawing can severely damage or kill young trees and shrubs. 

For more information, refer to Controlling Vole Damage.

Next week I’ll cover more of your early season landscape questions, including when to start cleaning up garden beds.  

Feature: Vole damage near a shed

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