Gardening: Weather is warmer but use caution with lawn

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

After a bitter cold winter, when temperatures reach into the 40s, it feels like T-shirt time and we gardeners want to get out in the yard.

According to researchers, walking on frozen turf can damage grass plants by crushing the crowns. This happens even when there is snow cover, so try to stay off the grass as much as possible. If you must traverse the yard a number of times, take a slightly different route on every trip to do as little harm as possible.

Walking on wet sod and soil causes compaction and also damages turf, so give your lawn time to drain away excess moisture before working on it.

Julia Hofley, Michigan rep for Plantskydd animal repellant and an avid plant collector, reminded me when the snow melts in micro climates around the house, spring bulbs and other early risers are exposed to rabbits and deer who have had a tough time finding food all winter. So it’s not too early to start using an animal repellant. Plantskydd ( granules in the shaker can or bag are quick and easy to apply. Just shake them on the ground around the plants — they last for six weeks. The granules are effective for use on plants up to 2 feet in height. Plantskydd also works on squirrels, voles and chipmunks.

Unless you have a good plant light setup, it’s best to wait a bit to begin planting seeds of warm weather-loving plants. A good rule of thumb is to start tomatoes, pumpkins, squash and cukes about six weeks prior to the estimated frost-free date in your area. The 25th of May, Memorial Day weekend, is the date many old-time southeastern Michigan gardeners use. To thrive, heat-loving plants should be planted in soil that has reached 60 degrees or warmer.

Again this spring you may find sun scald damage and frost cracks — vertical splits in the trunks of young trees and those with smooth bark, planted in south and southwest exposures. Japanese maples, maples, lindens, willows, fruit trees and mountain ash are particularly vulnerable. The damage occurs when the bark heats up during the day and freezes at night. The practice of wrapping the tree trunks is no longer recommended, as research shows it rarely prevents damage, but retards healing and bark that does not dry out attracts insects and disease.

Researchers also found that trees that endured drought in fall suffered more winterkill than those that were well hydrated.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at