Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

It’s that time of year – winter is in full effect. The time when winter storms are wreaking havoc across the country, bringing ice, snow, sleet, and frigid temps. Your home needs a little extra care during these extreme times of the cold season. You might find yourself at a loss asking common questions about what to keep an eye on in the attic, basement, your home’s exterior, and your heating system components. Spring-Green, your neighborhood lawn care specialist since 1977, has all the tips to keep your home safe during the winter months.

How to Keep Your Home Protected All Year Long

  • A Sweep of the Chimney is in Order – Wintertime is the best time to take advantage of a warming fire but be sure to have the chimney swept. Also check for any debris, cracks, or signs of damage to your chimney before using the fireplace. Leaves, branches, and even birds’ nests can collect in the areas, posing a fire hazard.
  • Sound the Alarms – Be sure to routinely check the batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors as you crank up the heat and light a fire in your fireplace. If you don’t already have a smoke alarm in every room and every hallway (including the attic and basement), now is the perfect time to install them.
  • Be Ready for the Storm – If a winter storm hasn’t hit your area yet, be ready if it does. Have your shovels and snow blowers readied for the potential of a snow storm. Change the oil and check the spark plugs on your snow blowers to make sure you’re ready when the white stuff begins to fall hard. While you’re at it, you might want to add some sand and salt to the shed supplies for when the snow turns icy.
  • Look at the Perimeters – From the roof and gutters to the foundation, a review of the state of the outside of the house is in order. If there’s snowfall, it will eventually melt, which could cause a problem if your roof is damaged or there are cracks and leaks that could lead to flooding in the basement or attic. Check your sump pump to ensure snow melt water doesn’t enter your basement either.
  • Don’t Ignore the Inside of Your Home – Be sure to check your heating system’s filters, which should be changed routinely. Monitor faucets for signs of freezing that could result in burst pipes and flooding. You can avoid this issue by shutting off faucets that are not in use during winter, and insulating pipes where you can.
  • Be Ready for Anything – Winter storms can leave you homebound for days. Be sure to have a supply kit to get you through a few days when icy and snowy roads prevent you from leaving. Canned goods, first aid supplies, wood for the fireplace, and board games can help you get through the cabin fever period.

Winter is upon us, and it will be here for quite a while longer. If you haven’t done a thorough check of your home to prep it to withstand the toughest, coldest days of winter ahead – it’s time! Follow a few simple best practices to ensure your home weathers winter without incident.

Your Spring-Green professional is here to help you assess your property and provide insights as to where improvements can be made. And, of course, when it’s time for lawn care again, we’re standing by with all the lawn care services you need to help you get as much enjoyment as possible from your outdoor living space.

Contact Spring-Green today for a free consultation.

White or Gray Matted Web-Like Grass? It’s Snow Mold!

Gray Snow Mold

There are two types of Snow Mold that can develop on residential lawns, Pink and Grey. Although all grasses are susceptible to the diseases, they are most common on bluegrass, ryegrass, bentgrass and fescues. Pink Snow Mold, also called Microdochium Patch and Gray Snow Mold, also called Typhula Blight.

Although they are both associated with snow cover, Gray Snow Mold requires at least 60 days of snow cover for it to develop. Both types of Snow Mold are most severe when snow falls on unfrozen turf, but Pink Snow Mold can occur without snow cover during cool (less than 60 degrees) weather that is wet and cloudy.

Identifying Pink and Gray Snow Mold

Gray Snow Mold

Symptoms develop under the snow and become evident as it melts. This lawn disease appears in circular to irregular-shaped patches that can grow as large as 3 feet in diameter. The grass is covered with a white or gray fungal growth and the grass blades appear matted together. In severe cases, large sections of grass blades can be damaged and will take a long time to recover.

Pink Snow Mold

This disease appears in roughly circular-shaped patch that can range from a couple of inches to about a foot in diameter. The disease presents as a white patch with a pinkish ring on the outer border of the patch. The grass blades appear matted and look is if they are glued together. As thee patches dry out, they will feel hard to the touch.

How to Control and Prevent Snow Mold

Both diseases overwinter as spores in the patch layer, so reducing thatch levels is very important. Fall core aerations will help to reduce the thatch levels and improve the health of the turf by developing better root systems and reducing compaction. Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilizer in the late fall and continue mowing if the grass continues to grow. Overly long grass that falls over on itself is more likely to develop snow mold.

If possible, grind up leaves with your mower in the fall to recycle the nutrients back in to the soil. If it becomes too cold to continue mowing, but there are still many leaves on the lawn, do your best to rake them up before the snow starts to fall. Leaves left lying on the lawn provide great conditions for this grass disease to develop.

In most cases, an application of a disease control material is not warranted on residential lawns. Snow mold is usually not severe enough to warrant an application of a disease control material. If small sections of either gray or pink snow mold does develop, lightly break up the fungal mats with a leaf rake or even your fingers if the spots are not very large. If large snow piles remain on the lawn near driveways or sidewalks, do you best to distribute the snow across the lawn so that it melts faster.

Usually this lawn disease is a sign that winter is ending as it is generally seen when temperatures start to warm up and snow quickly melts. If you have any questions or would like us to check it out, don’t hesitate to contact your local Spring-Green. 

Where Do Mosquitoes Go In The Winter?

where do mosquitoes go in the winter

During a recent mid-February warm up, I actually saw several insects flying around, even though it had been in the low 20’s just a few days earlier. I even saw a moth circling an outdoor light in the evening. That got me wondering, where do mosquitoes spend the winter? They are cold-blooded, so the freezing temperatures are going to keep them in some form of hibernation.

Mosquitoes are amazing creatures and most survive the winter in a different life stage, such as an egg, or will enter a period of inactivity called diapause. Some have the ability to dehydrate themselves to avoid freezing and wait until the weather warms up again. Other insects can actually raise the level of glycerol in their body (the glycerol acts as an anti-freeze to prevent them from freezing).

In regards to mosquitoes, it all depends on the species as to how they protect themselves during the winter. Some mosquitoes lay eggs in moist areas to survive the winter. The eggs remain dormant until the temperatures warm and spring rains return, usually in the spring. Other mosquito species spend the winter in the larval stage. These mosquitoes will enter into the diapause stage and stop developing as their metabolism slows way down.

where do mosquitoes go in the winter

Surprisingly, many mosquito species will spend the winter as adults. Most of the adult population at this time consists of females. After mating in the fall, the males will die off, which happens quite often in the insect world, and the females look for a place to spend the winter. Hollowed out logs, underneath leaves, the burrow of an animal or any other suitable site that will allow them to survive until the following spring. When these females become active in the spring, they immediately start looking for a blood meal. Once this has been completed, the females find any standing water in which they can lay their eggs.

A good place to learn more about insects or just any other household pest is the National Pest Management Association at www.pestworld.org. In their section on mosquito prevention, they list some very good points on what to do to prevent mosquitoes from bothering you this year.

  • Inspect your property now for water-holding items that could contain mosquito eggs deposited during the warmer months. These items may include flowerpots, birdbaths, tire swings, grill covers and other objects where water collects.
  • Homeowners should unclog gutters, repair any leaky pipes or faucets on the outside of their home, drill holes in the bottom of tire swings and wheel barrels to allow water to drain, and ensure trash cans are tightly sealed and lids aren’t flipped upside down.
  • Apply an insect repellent containing at least 20% DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon-eucalyptus when spending time outdoors, especially in areas that don’t get much colder than 50 degrees fahrenheit like Texas, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Southern California. Make sure to apply the repellent as directed on the label.

To learn about mosquito prevention services for your lawn, contact your local Spring-Green office.  Whether you want a one-time application before an outdoor party or event or you want month by month prevention services, Spring-Green can provide a program that will meet your needs.

Preventing Salt Damage to Your Lawn and Landscape

snow melting from salt avoid salt damage

The first real snow fell across much of the northern US in the last week or so. When snow falls, out come the ice melting products. Salt can be very detrimental to lawns and landscape if not used carefully. If you do plan to spread some, use it carefully. Try to keep the ice melting product on the paved surfaces and off your lawn and out of your landscape beds as much as possible.

There are several types of ice melt products. Some of these products claim that they will not harm your plants, lawn or your pets. These are products like calcium chloride or magnesium chloride, but if you use too much, it can still cause damage. Most people end up using rock salt to melt the ice and snow on their sidewalks and driveways. One of the major reasons could be the cost. 25-lb. of rock salt costs around $7.00 where as a 25-lb. bag of “environmentally friendly” ice melt product runs about $18.00.

You can carefully apply whichever ice melt product you want on your own sidewalks and driveways, but you don’t have much control of what and where your city may fling their salt products. Some cities apply a brine solution to the streets to help prevent the snow and ice from sticking to the street. If there is a major snow event, the brine does not help very much.

plow plowing the snow Unfortunately some of the salt will end up on lawns. For the most part, the melting snow and subsequent spring rains will wash the salt down into the soil and not cause much damage. If your landscape is close to the street, it could end up with a coating of salt. This is especially true with low growing evergreens. Although it may be too late now, placing a barrier around your landscape bed will help deflect the salt. Burlap is also a good choice for a screen to keep salt away from the landscape beds.

Sand is a good alternative to using salt and will lessen the chance of slipping. Just remember, sand is usually moist when it is packaged. If it is left outside, you will have a 50-lb. block of sand that won’t be helpful at all.

Dealing with snow is just a way of life for those who live in the northern climates, but even the folks down south can experience some cold weather. In all honesty, I would rather have to deal with snow then streets covered in ice. Most southern areas don’t even have salt spreading equipment, so waiting until it warms up is the only thing to do.

Winter officially starts on December 21. The one good thing about that day is the amount of sunlight we receive starts to increase a little bit each day. It is a small blessing when you are shoveling 12 inches of snow off your driveway.

Should You Be Worried About Your Plants? The Weather is Warming Up Early!

tulips

As I sit at  home watching snow continue to come down, I find myself asking, “When will spring finally arrive?” For those of us in the northern regions, we are ready for the snow to go away and are looking forward to seeing the spring bulbs we planted in the fall begin poking their heads up through the soil.

For those of you in the south, you have experienced some great weather in the last several weeks, but the temperatures have still dropped down to the mid to low 30’s. Regardless of where you live, February always seems like the longest month of the year, even though it is the shortest.

The long range forecast for northern Illinois is predicting the weather to climb into the upper 50’s by the end of this week. Sometimes that makes our anxiety levels climb as we know these warm temperatures won’t last that long and we still have the potential to receive a couple of more winter punches from Mother Nature in March and even into April.

If it does warm up enough this week for the soil to thaw out and the spring bulbs to break through the soil, what will happen to them if there is another significant snow fall? For the most part, these plants are well-suited to handle snow falling on them. The snow will actually act as insulation and protect the leaves from below freezing temperatures that often follow a snow storm.  It is actually more of a concern when the leaves are exposed to below freezing temperatures without the benefit of a blanket of snow.

From past experiences of observing my own spring bulbs after harsh weather, the leaves of the spring bulbs become distorted from the cold, but the flowers usually remain intact.

If your plants are blooming and the forecast calls for below freezing temperatures, you may want to throw an old sheet over the flowers or even some plastic tarps to protect them. It is the same procedure you follow when an early frost is in the forecast in the fall and you want to protect the last of your flowers or vegetables from freezing.

I hope that we do get the 50 degree weather later this week and I do hope that it begins warming up, but as it is said, I hope springs eternal. I know we will still have to endure cold and even some more snow, but I know that spring is not that far away as the first day of spring is March 21st.  It just can’t get here fast enough.

Do you have questions/concerns about your plants during this transition time of winter to spring? Contact your local Spring-Green for more information.

Abnormal Weather and Its Effect on Your Plants.

winter weather

The shifts in weather patterns the last couple of months around the country have made life as a plant somewhat difficult. What a way to end 2015, huh? Take northern Illinois for example, we got snow before Thanksgiving and until this week, have had temperatures way above average. Some days this December even reaching 60 degrees! Not too common for us.

Such a shift in typical weather patterns can cause some serious confusion to plants and their “resting period”. A plants resting period is dictated by temperatures, so any shift out of the ordinary can really throw plants off. As a direct result of this, some plants can be tricked into sending out new leaves and flowers, thinking it was spring once again, due to the warmer temperatures.

Cherry trees blossoming in D.C. this month is a great example of how this warmer weather can effect a plants resting period. I myself have even noticed a few tulips and daffodils poking through the soil at my house recently, and I still have some tulips that I have yet to plant! As far as the cherry trees are concerned, they should be just fine. The only negative effect it could have is that they may not bloom as much next spring.

flower in snow

As far as the spring bulbs are concerned, they have especially adapted to cold weather early in their life cycle, so they should bloom just as beautiful as ever once the warm weather is here to stay. Depending on the extent of the cold temperatures, the worst thing that could happen is the leaf tips may turn a little brown.

Being in the Green Industry for over 40 years has taught me time and time again that sometimes the weather will do strange things. And even though the weather is an unpredictable beast, turf and trees are remarkable plants that can endure a good deal of abuse and keep on growing. That’s what makes nature so incredible.

Does this weather have you concerned about something in your landscape? Contact your local Spring-Green professional and they can answer all of your questions.

Rabbit Damage in Winter—They Are Just Trying to Survive

As I walked out of a side door to our office the other day, I could not help but notice the hydrangea bushes that are located close to the entrance. I was shocked to see the amount of rabbit damage caused by rabbits eating the bark to say alive during this winter that never seems to want to end. I could easily tell that the culprits were rabbits due to the numerous bunny tracks in the snow.

Rabbits will feed on just about anything they can find during the winter and the bark of ornamental shrubs are usually within easy access for them. They will even eat the bark on low-growing evergreens like yews and junipers. Several years ago, we had a cluster of 6 or 7 pfitzer junipers by our office that were killed by the winter feeding of rabbits.

Speaking of being killed by rabbits, I am afraid that the hydrangeas are so badly damaged by the ravenous rabbits that they will have difficulty recovering. The plants will probably leaf out due to the stored carbohydrates within the stem tissues, but will quickly die. Unfortunately, it’s likely that no amount of shrub care will bring them back to the healthy plants they once were.

It is possible that the plants will send up new sucker growth from the crown of the plant, but it will take years before they develop into the same sized plants. If we have another snowy winter, the rabbits will probably feast on the remaining branches as well. Unfortunately this damage is virtually unavoidable as the rabbits are just trying to survive.