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Mid March Lawn

Mid March Lawn

Vole Damage

It looks like spring is going to start early this season and your lawn could be the recipient of everything that has positively happened over the past 12 months. Record breaking rains last year have really helped with the water table in Massachusetts. Many of the lawns that had dieback from the drought of 2022 have rebounded and look awesome. However, with the rain the soils have also been depleted with nutrients.

We are all anxious to spend some time outdoors working on the lawn and garden after a long winter spent indoors. Try to hold off a little longer; it is usually best to stay off the lawn until things begin to stabilize.  Even though the snow cover may be gone, soil is still cold, possibly still partially frozen, and fully saturated with water.  Until these areas drain off naturally, the lawn can be subject to tremendous unintended damage from both maintenance equipment (spreaders, aerators, mowers etc.) and even simple foot traffic.  This means that a basic “spring cleanup”, if done prematurely, could result in serious soil compaction issues that might have long term negative effects.  Damage to the soil structure inevitably results in poor rooting of the turf plus a loss of vigor.  This would be followed by thinning, general weakness, and a heightened potential for disease and the infiltration of weeds.

Most of the time in March we don’t have the ability to help the soil. We typically have a snow event which persists and by the time we get into April or May we be applying our first lawn fertilizer application. Typically, that product has a crabgrass preventer in combination with lawn fertilizer. Improving the soil health is the best way to get your lawn to develop a healthy root system and be able to tackle what every comes its way like a drought, insect attack or disease issues.

However, this year we can add an extra step to our lawn care program. I recommend removing all the remnants from the winter (broken branches, leaves, etc.) and spreading over your lawn an organic fertilizer like Milorganite or Espoma Spring Lawn Food.

The organic fertilizer will add nutrients and bring life to the soil. The dark color of the fertilizer will help absorb sunlight which warms up the soil, causing the roots to develop quicker and get the lawn to thicken up before the weeds become active later in the spring. I find by applying this step I still have time later into April or May to apply the fertilizer with crabgrass preventer (Jonathan Green or Greenview).

Take advantage of the early start to get your lawn looking the best before the dry summer temperatures come in. Some other issues we see on lawns at this time of the year are Snow Mold, vole damage, and road salt damage.

Snow Mold
There are two types of Snow Mold, Gray Snow Mold or Typhula Blight and Pink Snow Mold or Microdochium Patch. They have similar visual symptoms, but each affects the lawn in a different way. The disease is favored by prolonged periods of deep snow and can grow at temperatures slightly below freezing. Snow mold typically resolves with spring raking and fertilization. Reseed affected areas if regrowth does not occur.

Vole Damage

Voles are plant eaters and so with all the snow covering them, protecting them from predators like hawks, they have had a delectable feast available this winter. When the snow recedes and the turf first becomes visible in the spring, vole damage can appear dramatic, especially when coupled with other issues such as low temperature injury or snow mold. Voles feed only on turfgrass shoots; the vital crown tissue and rootsystem are typically not disturbed. Very often, grass plants will re-grow in the damaged areas as the weather warms. Practices that can encourage rapid recovery include thorough raking (particularly to remove accumulated excrement) and application of organic lawn fertilizer, like Milorganite or Espoma Spring Booster. For extra insurance or repair of areas that do not recover acceptably, overseed with Jonathan Green Black Beauty Blends of grass seed.   Apply Bonide MoleMax granules to your lawn now so you can have them move somewhere else. You can also apply in fall to prevent them from staying in your yard.

Road Salt
Turf damage from road salt can be rectified with the application of Jonathan Green Love Your Soil.  The salt will be released into the subsoil rather than sticking around and causing the grass to burn up.  Jonathan Green Mag-I-Cal Plus will also work to mitigate the effects of road salt as this product is a combination of lime and Love Your Soil. 

Once the lawn starts showing a more consistent greening up color and the soil is more alive, you can consider applying your first application of lawn fertilizer with crabgrass preventer.  Based on the current weather pattern, that should be anytime mid to late April through the month of May.

Written by Jim Connolly, MCH, MCLP is the Garden Center Manager of Weston Nurseries, Inc., Chelmsford MA.
MCH – Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist
MCLP – Massachusetts Certified Landscape Professional

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