With spring just a month away, now is the time to start thinking about getting your lawn back into tip-top shape. Thanks to an unusually warmer than normal winter, the snows have already begun to melt in many areas of the country. Emerging and recuperating from their winter dormancy, our lawns are in a critical transition. What happens during these first few weeks after the snow recedes will set the tone for the rest of the growing season. A disease-plagued, damage-ridden lawn will take much longer to recover and will waste precious nutrients as it mends. This causes problems as weeds begin to awake from their dormancy as well. When grass is forced to use nutrients to repair itself instead of growing and spreading, weeds will begin to creep in and out-compete the lawn. By taking a little bit of time during these first few weeks to make sure your lawn has the best start possible, you can save yourself a lot of maintenance and weed issues later on during the year.
Snow Mold Can Damage Lawns
One of the most common types of damage you may find after the snow recedes is discolored patches. These spots could be the result of other things, but are most commonly caused by snow molds. Snow molds are types of fungi that thrive in the dark, humid conditions found under snow cover. These snow molds wreak havoc on the grasses ability to utilize carbohydrates, resulting in a weak metabolism, disease, and eventually total death of the grass blade. Snow molds can be divided into either pink or gray, and almost all grass species are susceptible to the fungi.
Identifying Snow Mold
You’ll be able to tell if it’s snow mold by examining the discolored patches. Are they circular? Do they grow in size from day to day? Is there a noticeable white or light pink color around the edges of the patch? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you’ve most likely got snow mold. Snow mold fungus starts life very small. It grows and expands from a central point to eventually form an almost perfect circular patch. Sometimes you can visibly see the white or light pink mycelium of the fungus around the edges of the patch. Occasionally the center of the infected patch will begin to recover while the edges are still growing, resulting in interesting “eyes” all over your lawn.
How To Help Your Grass Recover
Once you’ve identified a snow mold problem in your lawn, there are some simple steps to take to help the grass recover as soon as possible. First, try to remove and break up the remaining snow piles on your lawn. I have a grandmother who does this. Every spring Grandma can be found out in her yard with a shovel breaking up piles of snow. As a kid, I always thought she was just getting impatient and must have really been in a hurry to begin gardening, but now I realize that she was trying to prevent snow molds from spreading under the snow. After you’ve removed as much remaining snow as possible, rake the infected patches vigorously. Raking snow mold patches will loosen matted grass and helps the lawn recover quicker. Raking also improves air circulation and sunlight penetration, further assisting the break-down of the fungus. After raking, a light application of fertilizer will promote new grass growth.
Preventing Snow Mold
These steps are usually all it takes to rid your lawn of snow mold. To avoid future break-outs, make sure the final length of your grass at the end of the growing season is no higher than two inches. More than two inches can cause problems as the grass bends and folds from snow cover, providing the perfect environment for fungal diseases. Fungicides are not recommended for controlling snow mold in residential yards because most of the time the lawn will recover on its own following the advice mentioned above.
By taking these steps to treat and prevent the spread of snow mold, you can give your lawn the best possible start to the growing season. Remember, a lawn that starts off strong will be much more resistant to weeds, diseases, and pests further on throughout the year. If your neighbors blame you for being impatient while you’re chopping up snow piles on your lawn this spring, just smile and remember how much more greener, healthier, and weed-free your lawn will be than theirs.