Hello fellow Gardeners! Are you enjoying the quiet winter or are ready to fast foward to spring? We have had record low January temperatures this year, six inches of snow this week, and everyone else seems to be having a really cold and snowy winter this year too! While we may be stuck with winter for awhile, there’s no doubt that the seasons will change before we know it. The onset of spring tends to bring to mind endless thoughts about spring gardening delights, and if you are like me, you may even have already begun looking through spring magazines and Pinterest boards to plan out what you want to achieve with your outdoor space this spring.
However, as winter moves into becoming a memory, we all may find that our gardens aren’t quite what we remembered them to be. The most conspicuous victim is likely to be the lawn; it may have been lush and green once, but suddenly, it’s looking like a shadow of its former self. Over the years I have learned to begin preparing my lawn in late winter to get a head start on spring gardening and to keep it looking it’s best. Even if it snows through May, a bit of late winter tending to the lawn will really help it look so much better when spring finally arrives to stay.
A winter problem?
If you see that your lawn is looking rather unwell, you will likely assume that winter is the cause of your woes. After all, days of ice, snow, and wind chill will undoubtedly have taken their toll on your carefully-manicured grass– won’t they?
In truth, while winter may be responsible for some of the issues with your lawn, it’s unlikely to have caused too much damage in and of itself. Grass that is well bedded in is built to survive the winter frosts and thaws, so you may need to look elsewhere to find what is really ailing your beloved lawn.
Below is a look at some of the most common issues that a lawn can suffer. These problems tend to be exacerbated by the winter months, but you can’t just wait for a change of season to fix the issue– you may need to take specific action to ensure that your lawn is ready for spring when it finally arrives.
Potential Problem #1: Pests and Animals
It’s natural to assume that any lawn-related issues can’t be the fault of animals; they’re all in hibernation…
Not necessarily. Some wild animals don’t hibernate; skunks, for example, may dip into torpor during cold snaps, but they don’t outright hibernate; raccoons do much the same. Both of these animals may be cute, but if they’ve been awake over the winter months, then there’s a chance they may be the cause of your sudden lawn woes.
You can usually spot problems with skunks, raccoons, and even squirrels if the top of the lawn is disturbed and showing earth. This is a sign that animals have been digging for food. Only the very top of the soil will be disturbed, however; any deeper, and you may want to investigate the possibility of moles.
If the top of your lawn is looking scuffed, scratched, and otherwise impacted by small paws, then you likely have a raccoon or skunk problem. In fact, skunks are suspect number one given that skunk mating season takes place during late winter period, so the animals will be more active– and thus potentially more destructive. To solve the problem, you need to contact a specialist in pet control rather than trying to trap the skunks yourself– traps can be illegal in some states.
Potential Problem #2: Drowned Grass
While water is a good thing for plants, too much of a good thing can be harmful. If you have experienced a particularly wet winter, then there’s every chance that your lawn is struggling to cope through the seemingly-endless deluge it has been exposed to.
There are numerous signs that your lawn is struggling to cope with the amount of water it has been exposed to:
- The grass feels “spongy” when you walk on it; sometimes, it will make a squelching sound with each step.
- You can easily pull a full blade of grass from the soil, rather than having to tug, or the blade snapping. If you can extract a full blade with minimal effort, then too much water is likely the issue.
- The grass looks dull, threadbare, blackened, or is otherwise struggling to thrive.
Unfortunately, there is no easy fix when it comes to grass that has been exposed to too much water for natural reasons. Your best bet is to sit tight and wait for the warmer weather to come, which should help speed up evaporation, and allow the grass to recover from the winter months. You may want to consider a mild, handmade lawn feed later in the year to help it bounce back as well as possible.
A wet winter also makes it more likely your lawn will experience the third and final issue…
Potential Problem #3: Moss Growth
As a girl with Celtic heritage and lover of all things green, I consider moss to be a beautiful addition to the garden in pots or growing along stone walls, but it can really tear up your yard. Moss is a hardy plant. If you have enjoyed a relatively mild and wet winter, then there’s every chance that moss will have begun to grow on your grass, especially if it was always growing on nearby structures. The fact we use our lawns less during winter gives moss a chance to grow unimpeded, but it can be difficult to remove when the warmer months arrive.
The signs for this are fairly obvious; you can see moss on your grass. Moss will most likely try to form where there are patches of bare earth, though you may see it overlaying grass as well.
Removing the moss is easier said than done, as most removal runs the risk of harming the grass below. If the moss is growing in isolated areas, then you can remove it by hand. If the problem is more widespread, you will need a rake, and a gentle hand.
- Use the rake to very gently skim over the surface of the moss; you don’t want the rake to dig in and potentially cause issues for the grass.
- Most moss should release relatively easily, or at least remove enough for you to detach the rest by hand.
- When you have removed the moss, it’s wise to test the acidity of your lawn soil. If your soil is too acidic, moss is more likely to form.
- If you find your lawn soil is too acidic, then a product such as garden lime can help to restore the balance.
Of course you can always save large clumps of moss right from your yard and use it to make a beautiful upcycled moss garden chair, or simply place it in some lovely old urns. Moss can grow fast in the right conditions. There are plenty of tutorials on Pinterest for other moss projects too.
As you can see, there are a few things you can begin to do in late winter to get your yard ready for spring. You might also need to remove leaves and debris that were missed in the fall. Spring is still a while away, but it is never too early to dream spring gardening dreams. While I am waiting for spring, I am busy pinning ideas to my Pinterest garden boards and planning out the landscape. It won’t be long until the crocuses start poking through the snow, however, giving us all the hope of the spring that is sure to come!
If you follow the solutions above, you should find a fix for the woes your lawn has experienced over the winter months– and you’ll be ready to enjoy spring in your backyard when it arrives. Depending on your zone, you should have some milder days in late February and early March that will allow you to inspect your lawn and begin to make some repairs. I am not rushing away the beauty of winter, but I know by then I will be ready to get going in the garden! Until then I will enjoy the snow outside my window, sip on some hot herbal tea, and look through my gardening magazines while snuggled up in my favorite chair. To everything, there is a season, and it’s best to make the most of them all!
NOTE: Contrary to popular belief, ticks do NOT hibernate in the winter and can be very active in early spring. They love to hide under rotting debris and leaf matter that my be in your flower beds. Even if you do not live near a forest, ticks are carried into your yard by mice and other animals. PLEASE WEAR BOOTS AND USE TICK REPELLENT ANY TIME YOU ARE WORKING IN THE GARDEN, AND BE SURE TO THOROUGHLY CHECK FOR TICKS TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM LYME DISEASE AND RELATED CO-INFECTIONS. If you are concerned about Lyme disease or would like more information, feel free to contact me at any time.