How to clean the yard in the spring – InForum

Have you heard of the two ferns that were close companions? They have become leaves forever.

April is when our yards and landscapes come alive after their winter hibernation. Spring is always uplifting, but disappearing snow often reveals tangled grass, rabbit damage, and an assortment of other tasks that need our attention.

  • Snow mold is prevalent this spring. The long winter and continued snow cover on ground that had not frozen deeply last fall encouraged the buildup of the fungus, which appears as a gray or pinkish web on the surface of matted grass.
  • To remedy snow mold, ruffle affected lawn areas with a leaf rake. Raking loosens and loosens tangled grass, improving the lawn almost immediately. Snow mold usually does not cause long-term problems unless left unattended.
  • The voles were once again active in the lawns, creating their surface channels through the turf while working under the protective snow cover. Raking areas to remove chewed up grass is usually all that is needed, and most lawn areas regrow vole damage without further remedial measures.
  • Electric raking, also called dethatching, can be destructive to a lawn if done too early in the spring when the grass is moist and soft. To reduce the risk of tearing herbaceous plants, delay power raking until the grass is actively growing and has been mowed several times. Many lawns never need electric raking, which is an operation to remove excess thatch. To assess the thatch content, cut a wedge-shaped plug into the profile of the turf and measure the undecayed layer between the blades of grass and the soil. A half to one inch of thatch is considered a beneficial amount, retaining moisture, shading roots and suppressing weeds.
  • Spring lawn fertilization recommendations have changed over the years, based on turf research. The old way of thinking was to apply fertilizer as soon as possible to “re-green the grass”. Research has shown that much of the fertilizer is wasted in runoff from spring rains before the grass is ready or able to use it. For the most effective approach, wait to fertilize the lawn until it is green and actively growing, with Memorial Day and Labor Day being the two most beneficial and easiest to remember annual target dates. . Fertilizing in May provides nutrition to lawns recovering from vole damage, last year’s drought and snow mold.
Snow mold and vole damage are often corrected by simply raking.

Michael Vosburg/The Forum

  • Most perennials survive the winter better with the aerial parts left intact. Cut them back in April after the coldest weather has probably passed and before new growth emerging at ground level reaches an inch.
  • Many native pollinators survive the winter by nesting in the hollow stems of perennial flowers, and they don’t emerge until the weather is warmer. Because the stems we remove in April may still contain these beneficial pollinating insects, it is best to stack the stems discreetly at the back of the perennial garden, or some other secluded spot, until late May when insects will have emerged.
  • Almost all perennials thrive in soil rich in organic matter. Incorporate several inches of peat or compost into the surface of the soil.
  • Adding a layer of mulch to the soil of a perennial bed will conserve moisture, keep the soil cooler and reduce weeds. Wood chip mulch is kinder to plants than rock mulch, which gets hot in the summer and weighs heavily on plant roots, compacting the soil.
  • April is the preferred month for pruning deciduous (hardwood) shrubs. Conifers can wait until May and June. Pruning of spring-flowering shrubs, such as lilac and forsythia, can wait until after blooming if that spring’s blooms are desired.
  • Rabbit damage was severe this winter and many landscape shrubs provided fine dining. Deciduous shrubs can be pruned to a point below the rabbit wound and they usually regenerate well, sometimes growing better than before.
  • Evergreen shrubs, such as arborvitae, do not have the ability to recover from injury from rabbits or deer like deciduous shrubs do. If branches are eaten away and foliage is torn from older inner branches, new foliage rarely regenerates in that area. This is why past injuries from rabbits or deer are often evident for the rest of an arborvitae’s life, and unfortunately there is little remedy once the damage is done.
  • Most tree types are best pruned in April before new leaves emerge. The exceptions are birch and maple, which bleed when pruned in the spring, so pruning can be delayed until the leaves are fully expanded to minimize sap seepage.

Don Kinzler, a longtime gardener, is the North Dakota State University Extension Horticulturist for Cass County. Readers can reach him at [email protected]


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Raymond I. Langston