In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2007
Regional Report

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As the snow cover recedes, look for signs of snow mold. A light raking helps increase air circulation.

Pre-Spring Activities After the Snow

Drifts of snow are gradually melting as warmer temperatures and longer days return to the region. The garden will soon spring back to life. As the snow recedes you may eventually discover side effects, some good, and some bad.

Perennials
Many perennials were unprepared for weekly snowstorms that left heavy loads on the stems and foliage. In my garden, the iris leaves look like a crumpled mass of gook. This is a good time to gently rake out the old leaves to improve air circulation around the crowns of the plants. This will also get rid of some of the overwintering disease organisms that are waiting to get started.

Lawns
Turf grasses are very prone to diseases when the snow persists for days on end. Snow mold on grasses is common with melting snow and cold, wet periods. It will attack the weaker grasses that have little or no disease resistance. Gray snow mold and pink snow mold can be found throughout lawns and may occur singly or side by side. Patches of snow mold will show up as roughly circular, bleached areas up to 24 inches in diameter. In my yard, it was very apparent with the whitish, thread-like mycelium of the fungus in patches where the snow was receding.

If you do see signs of snow mold in the lawn, don't be too alarmed. This lawn disease will subside as the lawn dries out with warmer, sunny weather. In most healthy lawns planted on well-prepared soil, the areas infected with snow mold will come back to life. You can help to speed up the recovery by lightly raking the matted turf. This will increase air circulation around the grass plants and allow the grass to grow and fill in. As soon as the soil begins to thaw out, it is a good idea to core-aerate the lawn to encourage root and rhizome growth.

If your lawn is older and thins out from a severe infection of snow mold, it will be necessary to replace the turf in those areas. You can either re-seed with disease-resistant lawn grasses or, for more immediate results, cut out the dead areas and re-sod with disease-resistant sod.

Trees and Shrubs
The weight of snow can takes it toll on shrubs and trees. In my rose garden, several of the taller hybrid tea roses suffered broken canes. Since I generally don't prune roses in the autumn, last year would have been the exception had I known that so much snow was to fall and stay on the ground so long.

Now is a good time to lightly prune back damaged canes to just past the broken areas. Winter conditions are not over yet, so don't prune roses back hard. Freezing and fluctuating temperatures can kill back the canes not covered by snow. As I recommend in my Rocky Mountain gardening books, leave as much of the rose cane as possiblel for overwintering. Do the final pruning in mid-to late spring as the new growth resumes. This will help guide your pruning cuts.

The snow has been such a blessing as it slowly melts and the moisture percolates deeply into the ground. This free water is welcome to charge the soil profile with needed moisture for the roots of all our landscape plants.


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