Now that the snow is gone and gardeners have left the warm comfort of the house, the impacts of the winter are very evident as we do that "walk about" in the yard and begin to formulate early spring gardening plans. Master Gardeners have begun answering questions coming in on the phone, by email and in personal visits to the Extension Office. A routine review over the past two weeks has had some trending questions.
At the top of the list is the question of: I have dozens or hundreds of trails all over my lawn and in places piles of grass left behind after the snow melted, what is this and what can I do? Most likely these are the feeding runs of the vole. The Vole is active all year long and needs to eat often. These trails part the lawn grass to allow the vole movement along the soil surface. In the summer they have free rein of the entire lawn and landscape, but in the winter are limited to the runs they create in search of food. The normal spring flush of the lawn is enough to take care of any signs they were there during the winter. In some areas a light raking to remove the dead grass and even perhaps some light topdressing will hasten the recovery.
As gardeners are anxious to get into the vegetable garden, question two is: When and how should I take a soil test. Most often soil tests are done at the end of the season after all the amendments, fertilizers have been utilized by the plants and micro flora in the soil. Consistency of timing is what really counts, so if you do a soil test in the spring, keep doing them in the spring in the future. Several vertical samples, 6-8 inches in depth throughout the garden or landscape bed should be taken and then mixed all together to give a representative sample. The next part of the question is usually where I can get the soil test done. Extension has a listing of available labs (http://urbanext.illinois.edu/soiltest/); locally your County Farm Bureau may offer the service. The typical test will be for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Gardeners may also want to get an Organic Matter content test too. The more we learn about organic matter, the better we can take advantage of all the good things in that compost.The third top question is also related to Organic Matter and Composts: I use a lot of composts from my own yard last year and now I have weeds and other plants everywhere. There are so many great benefits of composts and rotted manures that sometimes we forget that weed and flower seeds survive the cold composting process in the backyard bins and compost piles. While it may give gardeners a bit of pain to see plant parts leave the yard in the yard waste bag, certain plant parts are better left to the commercial composters. When deadheading our flowers, any viable seed will be spread about the yard if added to the compost bin. If any weeding is done and those plants are seating seed, "kick em" to the curb in the landscape waste bag, rather than compost them at home. Dandelions for example can have viable seed just days after they start to flower.