Lawn recovery after tough winter

Story Image

Beautifully manicured park garden in summer.

Believe it or not, the spring thaw is on its way. But after such a long, hard winter, getting plants and grass ready for spring might be more difficult than usual. Duane Graff, owner of Graff Gardens & Farm in Worth, shares some tips for getting the yard summer-ready.

As soon as the snow has melted, spring maintenance can begin, even if the weather is not yet above 55 degrees, Graff said. The first step is to clean debris from planting beds and rake the lawn to get rid of dead grass. This process is commonly known as “dethatching.”

The second step is pruning trees or shrubs, eliminating “dieback,” which occurs when the tree or shrub dies from the tips of the leaves or branches inward, Graff said. Pruning should be done with sharp, clean tools that are cleaned between each use with rubbing alcohol.

“You don’t want disease to spread if you have it,” Graff said.

Some plants should not be pruned at this time, he noted. Magnolia, lilac, and rhododendron set their flowers before winter for the following spring, so trimming those buds will ensure the plants don’t bloom, he said. Indeed, pruning should be done before any plant buds.

This is also a good time to assess damage caused by animals over the winter. Critters like rabbits and deer can be destructive any time of year, but a cold winter such as this year’s can make things worse as they begin eating plants they wouldn’t normally touch.

“The animals have almost been forced to find whatever food they can wherever they can find it,” Graff said.

Any plants that survived animal damage might be well served by some surrounding chicken wire next winter, he said.

Finally, get prepared for any necessary treatments the yard may require. It’s possible this year that lawns might have been affected by snow mold, which forms after long winters with heavy snow that stays on the ground for a long time. Yards that have snow mold should be treated first with fungicide before receiving regular spring maintenance.

This is a good time to fertilize the lawn and kill weeds, Graff said. Doing so early will help green the lawn faster and stop weeds before they start. If there are any bare spots, this is also a good time to plant grass seed, making sure to choose lawn treatments that won’t kill emerging grass.

Treating soil in the planting beds is important as well, according to Graff. Adding soil amendments in early spring will help plants grow and thrive throughout the year. The University of Illinois Extension provides a list of soil testing laboratories that can help homeowners determine what they need at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/soiltest.

Once the lawn and planting beds are cleaned and treated, they’re almost ready for new growth. Those who wish to plant vegetables or flowers should wait until after the last frost, generally mid-to-late May in this area, Graff said. In addition, snow melt and spring rain could leave beds too wet for planting for a while. Wet, muddy soil is not only messy but more compacted than most plants prefer, and stepping in the beds can make things worse, he said.

“You can possibly end up with a little more compaction to the soil,” he said.

To ensure all the hard work and expense won’t go to waste on plants that don’t thrive, Graff recommends visiting a garden center or calling a professional landscaping service for advice.

“You may like something, but it may not like where you put it,” he said. “A visit to the local garden center will go a long way.”

More information about Graff Gardens & Farm is at www.graffgardens.com.