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How to get rid of the 'snow mold' on your lawn this spring

"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also answers questions from readers about when to clean up planting beds and where to find certain flowers.

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A reader wonders how to remedy this snow mold that appeared on their lawn.
Contributed / Special to The Forum
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Q: The melting snow revealed snow mold on our lawn. I’m attaching a photo. Do you have any suggestions how to remedy this? — Larry S.

A: Snow mold is a fungus disease that develops during winter underneath snow when temperatures at grass level are just above freezing. I’ve received many reports of snow mold this year, with the increase probably caused by soil staying relatively warm until snow came in December. I mowed our lawn for the final time on a warm Dec. 1 and winter arrived shortly after.

Snow mold is revealed as the snow melts. Luckily, the disease cannot advance once the snow cover recedes, according to turf researchers at North Dakota State University. Moldy patches are covered by a white cottony growth called mycelium.

Thirty days of snow cover can result in a light outbreak of snow mold. A severe outbreak can occur if snow cover lasts 90-plus days, and we certainly accomplished that this winter.

Snow mold typically attacks grass blades, but usually will not kill the grass plants. In severe cases, though, the crowns of the grass plants can be killed, meaning the area will need to be reseeded.

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To rescue the lawn from snow mold that became visible after the snow melted, lightly rake the areas with a leaf rake to fluff up the matted grass. Raking will aerate the affected areas and the mold will soon disappear without the use of fungicides. Avoid vigorous raking that can tear up wet, tender grass shoots.

Q: The weather is getting warmer and I’m itching to rake and clear planting beds. How long should we wait? I know it’s early and only March. — Caroline J.

A: We're all getting the itch after the long winter. Cleanup of perennial flower beds and landscapes is usually best delayed until sometime in April, when weather is more stable. Aim for the weeks after winter’s coldest weather is likely past, but before new growth begins to emerge.

The above-ground portions of perennial flowers should be left intact through March’s wild weather, but removed before new growth emerging from ground level grows too large. Spring temperatures will dictate how quickly new growth starts, but aim to have the tops of perennials removed just as new growth is appearing at soil level. Much also depends on directional exposure. Growth usually progresses more quickly in sheltered, south-facing areas.

March's weather is tricky, with its frequent mood swings. If cleanup is done too soon, it removes insulating material, which provides security if we get a cold snap. Springtime freezing and thawing on unprotected, open areas can heave perennial plants, tearing root systems and affecting survival.

April is the month to prune roses, repair rabbit damage and trim shrubs.

Q: I walked through the North Dakota State University flower display garden last fall and saw some flowers that I would like to try this year. Do you know if local nurseries sell lisianthus and celosia? If not, I will have to start seeds inside pretty soon. — Lyle O.

A: Lisianthus is beautiful with its roselike blossoms in various shades of white, pink, purple and rose. Seed should be started in January for plants large enough to transplant outdoors in May, so your best bet is to shop locally owned garden centers for starter plants. I’ve seen it for sale at several in the area in past years.

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Celosia could be started now from seed, if done soon. There are many different cultivars of celosia in various colors and forms. If you shop around at locally owned garden centers, you should find at least a few from which to choose, if you opt for pre-started plants.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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