University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Winter Damage Difficult
to Predict This Year

March 19, 1998

With spring almost officially here, we can assess winter damage to the landscape plantings. Overall, the winter was mild, so severe damage is not expected. There are some types of damage already visible and questions about the recent cold snap on some plantings.

Let's start with what has been visible in recent weeks. Voles (field mice) have made runways under the snow in lawns as they feed on grass blades and roots. Early snowcover helped them. As conditions on the lawn dry out, rake affected areas. In most situations, the grass will fill-in quickly as we move into spring. Severe damage may require some overseeding. Help prevent this damage next winter by continuing to mow lawns until the grass is completely dormant. Mow at a final height of about two inches. Also clean up any excessive unnecessary vegetative cover near the lawn.

This past winter was also good for snow mold, a fungus disease affecting lawns and other turf areas. Snow mold has been visible as circular patches of matted, straw-colored dead areas in lawns; often merging into large, irregular areas. These areas may appear moldy. Infection stops as lawns dry out and weather warms. Reseeding may be needed on lawns with severe damage. Rake out debris prior to seeding. Be sure the seedbed gets frequent moisture to insure success.

The questions begin when trying to assess the very cold weather that arrived in early March. In particular, what will be the effect on those plants that were advancing along as the result of a mild February? Early blooming shrubs, for example, may have had swelling flower buds damaged by the cold. The upcoming weeks will tell the story.

Another area of concern is perennial flowers and strawberries that have been uncovered since the snow left back in February. Alternating freezing and thawing of the bare soil with cold nights and warmer sunshine of days may cause soil heaving that may damage plants. This is why winter mulches such as straw or evergreen boughs are suggested.

Once again, it is a little early to tell for sure what the cold temperatures of recent weeks have done to plantings. As we get further into spring, poor flowering , scattered dieback, and lack of vigor could all be potential responses of shrubs, some trees, perennials, and strawberries.

 

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