Winter was good to our plants in many ways. The heavy snow cover provided a thick blanket that protected trees, shrubs and perennials from bitter cold and, worse, fluctuating temperatures.
But now that the snow is receding, many of us are seeing evidence that that blanket may have been too thick. Because of our long, heavy snow cover, you're more likely to see matted, browned grass, broken branches on shrubs or nibbled branches on small trees.
Here are some problems we may face in our yards this spring and some suggestions for dealing with them:
It's common to find areas -- sometimes quite large areas -- of matted, tan-colored grass, particularly where the snow was piled up and slow to melt. This often indicates the presence of snow mold, a fungal disease.
What to do: Rake the lawn, but wait until the ground no longer feels spongy underfoot. Use a lightweight, fan-style rake, not a heavy metal garden rake, which can pull grass right out of the ground. A gentle raking will break up the mats and allow oxygen to penetrate to the base of the grass plants. You should see new green shoots before long.
In some neighborhoods, plows piled snow so high alongside streets and driveways that rabbits gained easy access to the lower branches of ornamental crabapples and other fruit trees. Once trees are old enough to develop rough, corky bark on their trunks, rabbit girdling (chewing through the bark all the way around the trunk) isn't typically a problem. But, this year, smaller limbs, with their thinner covering of bark, proved an easy target for bunnies.
What to do: Prune out twigs and branches that were stripped all or almost all the way around. To minimize the potential for your tree to develop a disease, don't prune in rainy weather. Instead, wait until it's expected to be dry for several days
Make the cuts where the nibbled branch joins a branch that's intact.
Many shrubs suffered damage when heavy snow was dumped on them by snowblowers, shovels or when snow was pushed off the roof to protect the house. If you have a deciduous (leaf-losing) shrub, it's best to cut badly damaged stems almost back to the ground, which encourages new growth from the roots. However, if the damage isn't extensive, simply trim the bent or broken stems back. That will help you keep the desired form of the shrub.
Often, a heavy snow will splay out the vertical stems of arborvitae and other upright evergreens. Rather than pruning them, tie the inner portions of the shrub together. That will force the stems to resume their upright form.
If you find chunks of sod that were displaced by plows, put them back in place as soon as possible. If the pieces of sod become dry and brittle, you'll have to patch the holes they left with fresh sod or add soil and reseed.
Voles can be a problem any year, but winter's heavy snows left them particularly well protected. How do you know if you have voles? They leave narrow, rambling trails through a lawn where they've been feeding. Sometimes they leave larger bare patches, as well.
What to do: After raking the lawn (again, wait until the ground no longer feels wet and squishy), assess the damage. Shallow trails should fill in nicely on their own as the surrounding grass begins to grow more vigorously. But if you don't want to wait, seed the trails with a grass seed suited to the sun conditions in your yard. When you seed, mix in some horticultural vermiculite or a buy premixed seed designed for patching lawns.
Any bare spots fist-sized or larger should be reseeded.
Deb Brown is a garden writer and former extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-7793 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.