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Gardening in Eagle County

Tom Glass
Vail CO, Colorado

So you blew it last fall because you’re new to the valley ” a newbie. You failed alpine turf-grass 101 because you thought winterizing your lawn should be done in November like it’s done down home. All the same, the color green remains high in your view of must haves looking out your back door.

Perhaps, you’re a second homeowner (or third or fourth or … ) and still looking for someone to take care of your property who knows a little more about grass other than where to buy it good and cheap. Or you’re bona fide local, moved in pre-’80s and now past 50, and Indian summer fun lulled you into thinking you’d get to lawn care next week because it’s such an aggravation to your testy sciatic nerve.

As for natives, natives are exempt from the focus of this article because they don’t have lawns. They have native areas.

Natives aside, some of y’all got caught with your lawn a little too long and attractive to the snow mold and voles that I predict are thriving under this now ebbing tide of white.

Does this spell the end of lawn perfection at your piece of the dream? Did your failure to cut your grass a little on the short side and lay down that last fertilizer in October ordain doom for your turf? My answer is a resounding, “Nope.” But, it’s probably going to be ugly under that crusty stuff when it melts away.

You’re lawn hasn’t seen sunlight since the week before Christmas. It probably won’t see it for another month or so, and snow mold ” evidenced by typically silver dollar to pancake-sized patches of dead turf that are commonly blamed on the family dog, or the neighbor’s mutt ” thrives and spreads the longer the snow sits.

If you live along the rivers, and the rivers rise to the potential of this snow pack, I suspect you’ll see tiny trails leading crazily to nowhere across the face of your lawn in an abundance not seen in quite some time. Voles, little bob-tailed mouse-like critters, create these mini game trails. Normally, voles favor hanging out streamside, but they don’t like to stand in water, or sleep in it. The higher the streams rise, the more voles that will move inland. I’ve seen it before. It’s kind of lemming like but lacking the organized group march to a fatal leap.

The question becomes what are the first things you can do to set your winter-stressed lawn to right once the snow has melted away.

Rake it, to begin with. You don’t have to rake the life out of it. Just give it a gentle scratching to get some air flowing through the matted grass and rid the sod of thatch (dead grass and other bits of decaying plant matter.)

Scoop up the remnants of the neighbors’ mutts’ indiscretions. Then, once the ground has dried enough to mow it without leaving a trail of muddy ruts, give it a mow with your buff, newly-sharpened lawn mower blade to about 2 1/2 to 3 inches.

Next, aerate it. An aerator pulls a small plug of soil nearly the size of your pinkie out of the ground about every six inches or so, and deposits it on the surface. If you golf, you’ve seen them, and maybe have even had to putt through them. This makes for a high scoring round, which is bad. Aerating your lawn, however, is good and reduces the compaction of the soil, loosening it, and allowing roots and beneficial soil fauna to breathe and thrive.

Now, you have a choice to make based on the condition of your lawn.

If your lawn is looking thin, with dead patches and vole trails, then over-seed your lawn. Broadcasting a light sowing of grass seed over your lawn will fill in the dead spots created by the snow mold and the voles. Over-seeding also makes a thin lawn more dense.

If your lawn missed the twin scourges of mold and vermin, and it looks plenty dense, once everything is cleaned up, it would be a good time to apply pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides. However ” warning ” do not over-seed and then immediately apply herbicide. It will kill the sprouting grass seedlings along with the emerging weeds. If you sow grass seed, wait about six weeks before applying herbicides.

You can do all of the above operations on the same day, conditions permitting and provided you have the spunk for it. Later, once your irrigation has started back up, you can give it a good feeding and your lawn will soon look like a fairway at Augusta. Or, you can go native.

Tom Glass writes a weekly garden column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments or questions about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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