Jeff Lowenfels: Pick up after Fido, but stay off the lawn for now

Jeff Lowenfels

I know I am not supposed to jinx things, but right now my back lawn is clear of snow. Obviously, there are many others in the same situation because all of a sudden I am getting lawn questions. Doesn't anyone remember the surprise May snow we got last year? In any case, let me answer a few lawn questions even though it is only the beginning of April.

For starters, when is it safe to walk on your lawn? This is important, because walking or working on a waterlogged lawn results in compaction of the soil. Compacting soil destroys important fungal networks that support that lawn and affects water retention. You may not notice now, but later in the season you may find pathways of poorer quality grass, patches that don't green up properly and even unexpected depressions in the lawn. All spell extra and unnecessary work.

My rule of thumb is to try to stay off the lawn until I can walk on it with my socks and not have them get wet. You may be amazed how much water the soil in that now-clear-of-snow lawn retains. There really isn't much need to go out on the lawn now anyhow, save for picking up the puppy's winter deposits, an important chore which can be done in the evening or early morning when the soil is probably still frozen. Fido's droppings will be frozen, too, and that will make things easier.

Next, what about snow mold? For those who have never seen it, snow mold is the name given to fuzzy patches of mold that appear as snow melts. This unsightly "netting' can cover an entire law or just in patches. It looks like a lot of dust and dirt were thrown on the lawn.

Snow mold can be unsightly for a time. For some reason that may include the longer daylight hours this time of year, Alaska lawns are almost never negatively affected by it. Leave it be and it will disappear as the lawn dries out. Then rake the area to clean it up.

In the "old days," when everyone was drenching their lawns with high-nitrogen fertilizers every three weeks instead of using organic lawn foods, Southcentral lawns were almost always infected and snow mold appeared every spring. Now, with more judicious use of nitrogen and much less use of chemical lawn fertilizers, the problem has greatly diminished.

OK, if the lawn is dry, how about fertilizing and liming?

Many think this is a great opportunity to get a running start on the green lawn. My response is absolutely no fertilizer should be applied to any lawn until after it has had a chance to green up. There is no way you can tell if it even needs it. As for liming, if you know your soil pH needs adjusting and your lawn is dry, go ahead and apply lime.

Finally, how about throwing some grass seed down on bare spots to get a jump on things?

You can toss some seed down on a bare lawn, though there is no guarantee it will germinate because of water conditions. In addition, birds and rodents may discover the seed before it does grow. It makes more sense to wait until temperatures are warmer and you can ensure the seed gets water for the 20 or so days it needs to germinate.

Despite my answers, I know there is still the temptation for many to get out there and work on the lawn. There will be plenty of time for that, as the veteran gardener well knows. My goal is to lessen the amount of work one has to do in the yard. The lawn can wait a few weeks.

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients." You can contact him on his website at

Jeff's Alaska gardening calendar

Dog poop: As noted, the time to pick up after your dog is when the lawn and the poop are frozen. Do it now.

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce and pepper.

Flowers to start from seed: Achimenes (tuber), brachyscome, dianthus, Stock (seed needs light), Lockspar

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join now and take advantage of the discounts at The Garden and other nurseries in Southcentral.

Bird feeders: Time to take yours down and time to put seed away securely. The bears are back.


Daily News correspondent