Early Spring Gardening

Jeannie MThis winter has certainly gotten its grips on the Northeast and will still not let go. Temperatures have averaged 9 degrees below normal in February. I have not seen my lawn since the first snow!  The good part of that is the snow will insulate the ground from the prolonged frigid temperatures, hopefully preventing some problems with my plantings. The downside to the snow cover is that there may be snow mold, which can develop on the lawn from extended snow coverage. I know that spring is really around the corner. Eventually, the snow will melt, the temperatures will begin to climb, and the sap in the trees will begin to flow so the buds can bloom. Because of the extreme winter there may be a few conditions that may require some attention (especially for your lawn!) that you’ll need to be aware of.  I hope you find this information helpful as you ready your lawn and garden for the warmer weather!                                                                                                                     See you in the Garden Shop,
                                                                                                   - Garden Jeannie




Q: What Is Snow Mold?


ANSWER: After the snow melts you may notice some grey or pink spots in the lawn. This is most likely snow mold, which is a fungus that grows and kills the grass after the snow melts. Grey snow mold, which affects the blades of the grass, occurs in small greyish colored circular patches about 3 inches in diameter. Pink snow mold, which is more harmful to the lawn as it affects the crown of the grass plants, is identified by a whitish circle with a pinkish outline.  If severe, the snow mold circles can merge together and become large patches up to three feet across!


 snow moldsnow mold 2



Q: What should I do if I have snow mold?


ANSWER: Grey snow mold usually will clear up on its own, but it is best to give the area a light raking to remove any matted grass.  This will increase the sunlight and air to the crowns to help it dry out quicker and clear up.Pink snow mold affects the crown of the grass; it can clear up on its own as well but fungicides should be used in severe cases.

Once the areas are cleared up, you can reseed your lawn or use a grass patch product on the affected areas.  Remember to clean your tools so that the fungus spores are not spread!



Q: How do I reseed my lawn?


ANSWER: You may first want to have your lawn tested for any deficiencies or excesses to know what is needed to balance the soil. There are home tests that can be used or soil samples can be sent into the Connecticut agricultural experimental station in New Haven, Conn. for free; check out their website for directions or look into any other local agencies in your area.

Next decide what type of grass seed is best for your area.  Once the area is raked to dethatch, you may need to apply a starter fertilizer, dehydrated cow manure, peat moss or compost and work these into the ground. Level out the area and firm it up, apply grass seed, and then add a layer of soil to the ground.   A quarter to half inch of soil should be fine.

Top dress the area with hay as this will help to prevent the birds from eating the newly germinated seed.  Water every day for the first two weeks and when needed afterwards.  Remove any remaining hay.   Wait until the grass has reached three to four inches tall before mowing. 


Q: What are the signs of salt damage and how do I avoid it next year? 


ANSWER: You’ll notice damage from road salt and other de-icers in spring or early summer.  There can be browning of evergreens, leaf scorch, and branch dieback. Roots can also be damaged by the salt residues left in the soil; salt can leach through well drained soils, but can be a problem in compacted or poorly drained areas. To avoid this in the future, use salt tolerant plants in the areas where salt damage is most likely to occur.  If lawn damage results from road salt or de-icers, flush the area before re-seeding to remove as much residue as possible.


Q: Why do my evergreens look brown and scorched?


This is called winterburn, which is a browning that occurs from the needle tips downwards on evergreens. Winterburn occurs when the tree or shrub is unable to transport water to the area as the wind is removing it faster than the plant can replace it in the cold weather.  Using an anti-desiccant will help to avoid this from occurring. 


Q: When can I get started on spring cleanup in the garden?


ANSWER: As soon as the snow melts, it is time to get started with spring cleanup!  Clean up any debris left in the garden before winter and remove any pests that may have found a safe refuge.  Apply new mulch to areas where needed or just top dress the beds to refresh their look. Doing this step now will give you a jump on keeping the weeds down before they start.


Q: It looks like the deer damaged my garden this winter.  Is there anything I can do?


ANSWER: Yes, there is!  Start to apply a deer or critter repellent now before more damage occurs.  Deer have a habit of moving in the same pathways, so later in the season make sure to plant only things deer don’t bother.  Continue to check your plants throughout the spring, especially when the buds begin to open!  You may want to alternate repellants if the one you’re using is not as effective as it was previously.


Q: What can I do to get my trees in shape after this snowy winter?


ANSWER: Take a good look at your trees: Are there any that need immediate attention from an arborist?  Do you need to trim some branches that cross over each other, creating a rubbing situation where the bark will start to abrade?  Now is time to prune trees and shrubs that bloom on new wood.  Fruit trees should also be pruned now before the sap begins to flow and the fruit sets.


Q: How do I prevent spring freezes from damaging my lawn and garden? 


ANSWER: Spring freezes can be the culprit for killing off the fragile new growth buds before they have a chance to bloom or as they are beginning to bloom.  Shallow rooted plants can be severely damaged when soil temperatures reaches 15 degrees.  Mulch, leaf litter, and even snow can insulate the ground to prevent the soil temperature from reaching that level.



Early Spring Gardening Check List


  • Survey the property for broken branches that can be pruned.


  • Apply a dormant oil spray on plants to suffocate any eggs that were laid before any pests hatch. (We recommend Bonide All Season Spray Oil which works on a number or pests and is also safe for organic gardening.)


  • Fertilize rhododendrons, azaleas, hollies and pieris (Andromeda). Even if there is still snow on the ground, you can feed these evergreen shrubs with a fertilizer such as Hollytone. The melting snow will actually provide the moisture the fertilizer needs as it breaks down and penetrates into the ground. 


  • Force forsythia by cutting some branches and bringing them inside.  Once you see the bud terminals swelling and color changing, cut some and put the stems in a container of water and place the container in a cool place until the buds begin to open. Don’t forget to check out the water level and change the water as needed. Once the buds begin to open, set the container where you can enjoy a touch of spring inside the house.