By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

This is a miserable time of year for gardeners. The only green you see is in your house plants. You have repotted them, given then their spring tonic, fertilizer and your fingernails are clean. Now what?

Only in Ireland can you plant spuds on Good Friday. They get away with it because the island is warmed by the gulf stream. It is warm enough there for palm trees to grow on the southern coast. Here we often still have snow on the ground in late April. But gardeners must get dirty somehow. Here are a few things you can do now to keep your hand in.

Take a tour of your estate. Check the lawn. If most of the snow has melted and the temps are getting warmer, you may see snow mold on your grass. This typically appears as a round straw-covered patch.

The grass is usually matted and can be covered with a white, pink, or gray fungus. It may even have some small mushrooms popping up in the area. It really looks gross, but the cure is quite simple. Simply rake lightly to encourage faster drying, and next year, cut the grass just a bit shorter in the fall, 2 ½inches rather than the 3 to 3 ½ you cut it in the summer. Stay off the grass as much as possible as you don’t want to pack it down.

If it is warm enough to be outside, and anything warmer than 0 is warm enough for the anxious gardener, check your trees and shrubs for winter injury. Colorado blue spruces and red pine will show “freeze dry” injury by turning red-brown. 

Needle cast diseases look very similar, but winter injury will start where the snow line ends. Needle cast is a fungal disease and starts on one side of the trees and works its way up. if you are sure the damage is from the winter, don’t be in a hurry to prune off the affected branches. Wait until budbreak. It is easier to see the damage then. 

Needle cast can be treated but it is expensive and must be timed just right.

If you wrapped your thin-barked trees last fall, don’t wait too long to uncover them. 

If moisture has collected between the wrap and the bark and the temps rise, the bark can split. Dark wraps can heat the tree’s sap causing the bark to split even if there is no moisture inside the wrap.

Winter injury on trees can be difficult to diagnose. If there is root damage, from compaction for instance, or stem damage, the tree may leaf out very early or not at all. It is now firewood. Losing a favorite shade tree is almost as bad as losing a pet. To prevent this heartbreak, only plant zone hardy trees. Keep them well-watered for the first 5 years. Mulch them heavily with wood chips being careful not to have the mulch touch the bark. This not only keeps the roots cool, it reduces moisture evaporation and the competition for food and water from grass. It also keeps the deadly weed wacker and lawnmower from damaging the trees’ tender bark. Many young trees are permantly damaged by bark

injury. Renew the mulch as it rots.

Be nice to your trees and they will reward you with shade that reduces your air conditioning bill, increases the value of your estate and gives you free garden mulch of leaves in the fall. Not bad for what is essentially just a very large plant.