Early Snow in the Midwest – Winter Landscaping

A Midwest lawn after light snow fall

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means it’s time to wrap up winter landscaping tasks for the year. If you live in the Midwest, you may be dreading the early onset of winter. I live in the Chicago area and we were “hit” with a whopping ½ inch of snow on Monday night, November 11. It is not that unusual for our area to get a few light snow falls in November. We have even had some years where several inches of snow fell in October. As is often the case with any snow event, the temperatures have dropped the day after the snow and are not predicted to climb back to normal temperatures until Thursday or Friday.

As I watched the snow fall last night, I thought about all the garden duties that I have left to do this year. I still have a number of dead annual plants to pull out before the ground freezes too deep. I have not cut back my roses for their winter time nap. I like to cut off all the foliage off my hostas as well. I have a bit of a problem with slugs feeding on my hostas. I have found that if I cut off the leaves every year, I can keep the slug damage in check. Slugs will lay eggs on the leaves and I can reduce their populations by removing the leaves.

I still have to apply late season fertilizer to my lawn as well. It may be cold right now, but it will warm up enough in the next couple of days that the ground will not be frozen. I also want to seed my lawn. Dormant seeding does work, but you have to wait until the chance for the seed to germinate has passed. If you plan to dormant seed your lawn, remember that you cannot apply crabgrass preventer next spring.

I hope the weather cooperates this weekend so I have a chance to get the rest of the yard work done. Since my beloved Chicago Bears have lost many of their star players to injuries, I may be able to work all day on Sunday as well and not watch as they play the Baltimore Ravens. It could get ugly.

PLANET Gives Back


I attended the Green Industry Expo and Conference last week in Louisville, KY. This annual event brings together all types of Green Industry service providers, manufacturers and suppliers for a three day event that provides educational sessions and one of the largest tradeshows of its kind.

As part of the event, one of the organizing associations, the Professional Landcare Network or PLANET, conducts a community service project to promote a positive impact for the host city of Louisville.
This year, we provide beautification services to the Home of the Innocents, a nonprofit shelter and pediatric convalescent center. We planted trees, added irrigation systems, cleaned up planting beds, worked on a butterfly garden, planted cool weather vegetables and worked to improve the overall landscape of the center.

All the work, tools, equipment, and plant material were donated by many different companies. I worked on replacing about 30 trees that died due to the drought of 2012. It was hard work, but when you are working with many other Green Industry professionals, the work is completed in record time. It also helped that it was only about 45 degrees with a stiff northerly wind and a few isolated showers.
The three hard working people in the picture, Dave Griscom, Maureen Thompson and Jay Young, all work for FMC, a product manufacturer for the Green Industry and a valued partner with Spring-Green. Jay worked with me planting trees, Maureen worked on the butterfly garden and Dave helped with the bed clean ups. It was a great day and we all felt proud to help improve the landscape for the Home of the Innocents and its residents.

Brown Patch Lawn Disease


A Most Destructive Hot Weather Disease

Brown patch lawn disease is one of the most destructive of all turf grass diseases. It sneaks up on you and destroys large areas of turf virtually overnight when the weather conditions are just right.

Brown patch lawn disease isn’t picky; it attacks a wide variety of grass types, and really likes the lawns receiving large amounts of fast release nitrogen fertilizer.

Brown Patch Loves The Hot Summer

Brown patch is really a summer lawn disease that’s caused by a fungus called Rhizoctonia. The disease begins to show growth when temperatures reach 65 degrees, but the most active growth of brown patch lawn disease occurs at temperatures of 80-85 degrees when humidity levels are very high.

The fungi survive the winter in plant debris (thatch) and enter the leaf tissue through wounds caused by mowing and through the pores (or stomata) when daytime temperatures get into the 70s. Infected turf grass can go quite a while without showing damage because it’s actively growing. But if the daytime temperatures reach the mid 80s and nighttime air temperatures stay above 70 degrees, the grass will be under stress. Then lawn disease damage can become visible almost immediately.

Once started, brown patch lawn disease spreads fast. Brown patch damage first appears as circular areas of brown and dead grass surrounded by a narrow, dark ring. This dark, smoke ring is not always visible, but is more likely to appear in the early morning when there’s dew on the grass. Brown patch lawn disease grows out from a central point, so these circular areas can enlarge rapidly. Brown patch circles range from a few inches in diameter to several feet, and are not always true circles. Sometimes the patches grow together, creating large irregular dead areas. Diseased turf first appears water soaked with leaf edges showing a wavy or wilted pattern, but soon dies completely and mats down, creating a sunken effect.

Cultural Management: Preventing Brown Patch Lawn Disease

Since high levels of fast release nitrogen increase disease activity, Spring-Green uses a correct blend of fertilizers for lawn fertilizing during the warmer months. Mow less frequently during periods of hot and humid weather. This reduces stress and limits the movement of grass disease by being carried on your feet or mower. If possible, increase light and air penetration or movement by pruning overhanging trees and shrubs. During cooler seasons, open up the thatch layer with power core aeration. If these cultural cures fail, a preventative fungicide lawn treatment program may have to be applied to control this most damaging of lawn diseases.


  • Brown patch is the most damaging of all turf grass diseases.
  • Brown patch lawn disease becomes most active when day temperatures are over 85 degrees and night air stays above 70 degrees.
  • Because infected plants may appear healthy, brown patch damage can occur very fast when conditions are right.
  • Avoid high levels of nitrogen in fast release form; it encourages brown patch development.

At Spring-Green, we take brown patch lawn disease seriously because we know the damage it can cause. If you ever suspect this disease of infecting your turf, please contact your neighborhood Spring-Green lawn service.

Learn more about…

Lawn Patch Ring Diseases

Dollar Spot

Fairy Rings


Bluegrass – A Remarkable Plant


I receive newsletters and e-zines from several universities’ turf and ornamental programs and subscribe to Green Industry blog posts. They are a great source of current issues related to turf and ornamental problems and provide me with ideas to use for my own blog posts.

I just received a blog post from Iowa State University that described the remarkable recuperative power of bluegrass. Much of Iowa endured a severe drought this year. Lawns were brown and ugly all summer. Recently they have been receiving rain and the post described how quickly the grass recovered.

I have been in the lawn care industry since 1978 and have lived through some serious droughts during that time. I have always been amazed at how bluegrass lawns came back either that fall or the following spring after a drought. I knew that the grass would come back, but what I learned from the article was that the new plants were being generated from the rhizomes, or underground roots, that the grass produces and not necessarily from the existing plants that were growing at ground level.

The article explained that the rhizomes are actually a stem, not a root. The roots grow from the rhizome as well. Small buds grow on the rhizome and new shoots will grow from those buds. Since the rhizome is underground, it is more protected and can remain inactive for a long time. When they are needed for the survival of the grass, they will grow and form a new plant.

I borrowed these pictures from the blog post. The brown areas were actually caused by sheets of plywood that were left on top of the turf for too long of a time during the summer. The second picture shows the same area several months later, in October. This is the same type of recovery that can be seen on drought stressed areas. As you can easily see, bluegrass is a remarkable plant, if given enough time and water.

Pruning Trees & Shrubs in the Fall

pruned shrubs

As a general rule of thumb when it comes to pruning trees and shrubs, if it flowers in the spring, don’t prune it in the fall.

Pruning is a standard component of tree and shrub care, but if the timing is wrong it can damage your trees and shrubs.

We recently had some pruning completed on some of our landscape plants that are around our corporate office. Many of our employees asked why the company doing the work did not prune all of the shrubs.

I took a look and saw that the shrubs that were not pruned were lilacs, specifically, Korean lilacs. Since lilacs flower in the spring, pruning them at this time of year would reduce the number of flowers they produce next spring. This is especially true if the pruning is completed using a hedge shears.

There are two basic types of pruning – shaping and thinning. Many people shape evergreens and small leafy shrubs into either distinct shapes or free flowing groupings. Thinning is when selected branches are removed for various reasons related to general tree maintenance. Examples of this are removing crossing branches or damaged or diseased branches, removing overgrown branches or opening up the plant’s interior to allow for better growth. Thinning can take place at almost any time of year, with the understanding that you may be removing some of the flowering branches, but there should be enough remaining to provide enough flowers to enjoy. Shaping is more time-dependent, based on when the plant flowers.

Spring flowering shrubs should be pruned shortly after they finish flowering in the spring. Shaping a bush in the fall, such as the lilac discussed above, would result in fewer blossoms the following spring. Many spring flowering shrubs set their buds and flowers the previous fall. If these are removed during the shaping process, you are removing the flowers. It will still produce some flowers, but the overall look of your plant will be diminished.

Spider Ballooning

Jim Hoelsworth, franchisee from Vineland, NJ, recently sent in a picture of an upright yew covered with some sort of webbing. What he is seeing is the mass hatching of spiders, producing long strands of silk that catch in the wind to disperse them to another location. This process is called “ballooning” and it enables them to float long distances.

Spiders will hatch in both spring and fall in large numbers, but fall is the time when most spiders hatch. When the hatching of one species occurs on a windy day, their “balloons” blow into each other and become entangled with each other into a large mass, as what you see in this picture.

Spider ballooning passes in a couple of days and the excess spiders will eat each other and it will be over. The webbing can be washed off the shrubs with a strong stream of water. There is no real reason to spray an insect control product as the new spiders do a good job controlling their own population.

The first time I saw ballooning spiders was in the early 1980s when I was called to a customer’s home because there were spider webs all over the front of the their home. I thought they were exaggerating until I pulled up to see an amazing site. The front of their house was nearly covered in spider webs and so was their car in the driveway. It was like a scene out of the Twilight Zone. I really did not know what to recommend, but I remember that I did not see any spiders crawling over the webbing. I told the customer to sweep off the webbing and that should take care of it. I was able to learn the story behind spider ballooning from someone at the University of Illinois Extension Service.
Unfortunately, this was before digital cameras or cell phones, so you will just have to take my word that I did see this weird phenomenon and it was a creepy site.

Tree Galls or Seed Pods?


I was recently looking at a star magnolia tree and noticed weird looking growths coming out of the ends of many of the tree’s branches. I had never seen this before and my first thought was that it was some type of gall, similar to oak galls, forming on the branch tips.

Galls are abnormal growths that can occur on the leaves, twigs or flowers of numerous plants. They are usually caused by irritation or stimulation of the plant cells from things like an insect laying eggs on the leaf surface. One of the more common types of galls we see are the maple bladder galls that form on silver maple leaves. This gall is caused by a tiny wasp that attacks the leaf. The health of the tree is not affected and special tree care is not necessary, but it can deter from its aesthetic beauty.

I did some research and discovered that the growths on the magnolia were not a gall, but the seed pods that the tree will generate. The seed pods will form at the ends of the branches where the flowers had formed earlier in the spring. As the pod ripens it will split open to reveal bright orange seeds.

As I said earlier, I had never seen them before, so I needed to find out why they formed this year. It is also possible that I just never noticed them before. The only reason I can think of as to why they formed this year may be due to the exceptionally wet and cool spring we had this year in the Chicago area that provided the tree enough energy to form the seed pods.

That is only conjecture on my part, but I do know that oak trees can go several years without producing acorns as they need the time to build up enough energy to push out the acorns. I will continue to learn more about these seed pods and if I find a reason why they formed this year, I will let you know in a future blog.

Plant Identification: White Snakeroot


Over the years, I have received many pictures of problem lawns and landscape plants. Most of them I am able to identify, but occasionally, I am stumped. That is when I go to a network of professionals and colleagues to help me identify or diagnose what may be the cause of the problem or identify the plant. I recently needed to go to my plant identification “helper” list to help me identify a weed that I didn’t even know existed.

Kenny Gute, franchise manager from our Boone, Iowa franchise likes to send me pictures of diseases, insects and other flora and fauna that he comes across in his daily work. The last one he sent me was a real puzzler and I had no idea what the plant was or how he could treat it.

I first sent a picture of the weed to a colleague, Scott Wanzor, from PBI Gordon, a company that specializes in the manufacture of weed control products. He did not know what the weed was, so he sent it to Dr. Bert McCarty at Clemson University. Dr. McCarty is a well-known weed scientist in the Southeastern US, but has never been to Iowa, so he didn’t know what it was.

Even though he did not know, one of his grad students was able to ID it as white snakeroot, Ageratina altissima. Pretty cool! In the meantime, another colleague from PBI Gordon, who was copied on the e-mail, Dr. Gary Custis, confirmed the identity of the weed. He responded that he has seen it before, but didn’t know what it was called. He did know, as a beekeeper, that he needed to keep his bees away from the plants when they are in bloom because when bees go to the flowers his honey becomes bitter. Bees don’t mind it, but people cannot consume the honey.

Wow! That sounded ominous, so I looked up the weed to learn more about it. White snakeroot is a native plant and can grow as high as three feet. Leaves and stems of the plant contain tremetol, which is extremely poisonous. If it is consumed by cows in a large enough amount, the animal can develop a condition known as “trembles.” If humans drink the milk of cows that have ingested a large quantity of white snakeroot, they can develop a condition known as “milk sickness” and it can be fatal. It is said that Abraham Lincoln’s mother died of “milk sickness.”

Fortunately, it can be controlled with many different weed prevention products. If there are just a few plants, they can be hand-pulled. Wait until after a good rain when the ground is soft. The best time to do this is in late summer when the plant is in bloom and more easily identified. Wear gloves to be on the safe side.

Grass Seeding, is it a Blend or is it a Mix?


I recently attended a Turf Education Day sponsored by the Illinois Professional Lawn Care Association, Illinois Landscape Contractors Association and Chicago Botanic Gardens. One of the presentations, If Your Turf Looks Tired…Transform That Turf!!!!, was presented by Eric Draper, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University Extension. During the presentation, Draper explained the difference between the terms “blend” and “mix” in regards to grass seed and what to consider before seeding a lawn . A blend of grasses is the combination of two or more cultivars of the same species. In other words, mixing Victa and Vantage bluegrass would be considered a blend of grasses. A mix is when you combine two or more species of grass, such as bluegrass and ryegrass.

This is helpful when you are choosing grass seed at a garden center or home improvement center. If your lawn is mostly one species of grass, you would want to purchase a grass seed blend. If your lawn is a comprised of different species, then you would want a grass seed mix that would match what you have in your lawn.

Another thing Draper discussed related to grass seeding was the growth habits of the grass you are using along with the germination rates of those grasses. This discussion is more directed toward cool-season grasses as most warm season grasses are installed vegetatively (sprigging) or with sod. The majority of cool season grasses have either a bunch-growth habit or a spread through underground roots called rhizomes.

Perennial ryegrass and turf-type tall fescue both have bunch-growth habits and are slow to fill in an area. Bluegrass has rhizomes and is quick at filling in bare areas.

What type of grass should you plant in your lawn?

It depends on what you are looking for out of your lawn. Ryegrass has great recuperative properties, but doesn’t handle the heat or drought very well and is slow to fill in an area. Tall fescue can handle the heat, is okay with drought, but takes a while to establish. Bluegrass fills in areas very well, but it is the least heat and drought tolerant. So based on this, it seems that the best choice would be a mix of two or three of these grass species.

One thing that most people don’t take into consideration is that ryegrass germinates in 7 days, tall fescue germinates in 10 days and bluegrass takes 28 days to germinate. If you want a mostly bluegrass lawn, mixing too much ryegrass or tall fescue with it will limit the ability of the bluegrass to germinate. The other problem is that most people are not dedicated enough to keep the area watered sufficiently for 28 days.

Based on this information, if you are going to use a mix of grasses and want the majority of it to be bluegrass, then don’t use more than about 20% ryegrass or tall fescue and be prepared to keep the area moist for at least 28 days.

Fall Lawn Care

End Of Season

Fall lawn care is an important part of ensuring your lawn is healthy and beautiful season after season. Below find tips on the best ways to care for a lawn in the fall, specific to northern and southern regions.

Northern Areas

Aerate your lawn
Fall is the time when a lawn naturally repairs itself from the ravages of summer stresses. You can help this along by aerating to open up your lawn to allow more air, water and nutrients to reach the root zone. Lawn aeration will also help reduce thatch problems.

Most cool season grasses take a beating during the summer and will die due to heat and dry conditions. Fall is the best time to reseed cool-season grasses. If you aerate your lawn first, the seed will have a better chance of survival.

Lawns are beginning to store food and transferring energy downwards to build a stronger root system. Applying a fall fertilizer will promote a stronger root system and healthier turf.

To rake or not to rake?
The answer to this is one of personal preference. I choose to grind up the leaves that fall on my lawn instead of raking them up and  putting them in paper bags that I have to purchase. Research has shown that grinding up leaves and leaving them on your lawn does not contribute to the thatch layer and can actually add to the organic content on your soil.

Control Weeds
There are numerous weeds that start to germinate in the fall, such as dandelions, some thistles and Shepherd’s Purse. Applying a weed control in the fall will lead to fewer weeds in the spring.

Southern Areas

Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers in the fall. You have to allow time for warm season grasses to harden-off before they go into dormancy.  Apply a fertilizer that is higher in potassium (the last number on a fertilizer bag analysis) in the fall.

Control Weeds
As with northern areas, there are numerous winter annual weeds that germinate in the fall. Get these under control before they have a chance to get established in your lawn.

To rake or not to rake?
Even though you may be in an area that does not receive much snow fall, there are still trees that will lose their leaves. Grind them up with your mower instead of raking them up. You will be adding beneficial organic material to the soil.