Extension has gotten some very seasonal questions arriving at the Master Gardener Help Desk this past week. The phone and email logs seem to suggest we are a lot closer to spring than some long-range weather forecasts, which mention snow in early to mid-April! Here are a few of our frequently asked questions:
Q: I am seeing rodent trails all over my backyard and under the bird feeder now. What should I be doing about this?
A: These are likely the trails of a vole, a small field-mouse-sized rodent with a pointy nose and some small but sharp teeth. Voles eat all winter long, traveling along the surface of the soil, parting the grass as they go. The bird feeder has been supplying a steady diet all winter, which is why there are so many trails nearby. As bird-feeding season wraps up, the voles will be looking elsewhere for food. Usually a good lawn cleanup with a hand rake, and the fact that the grass will begin to rapidly grow, means there is little else you will need to do.
Q: I have patches of brown grass in my lawn every spring. What is going on?
A: We have two warm-season perennial grasses considered a weed in our otherwise cool-season lawns. Warm-season grasses green up much later than the rest of the lawn, and eventually seem to go away. The more common one is nimblewill. It is a stringy looking grass with the blades showing up along the stringy stem about every ½ to ¾ of an inch. It will not have a strong root system, and while it appears as a patch where it is growing, it is not strongly competitive. Not as common is Zoysia grass. It does compete very well against our cool-season grasses, forming a thick dense stand. The patch will grow in size each year. Given time, Zoysia will completely take over. Nimblewill can grow in the shady spots in the yard, while Zoysia requires full sun. These two warm-season perennial grasses also will go dormant earlier each fall than the rest of our lawn, so they reappear like magic.
Q: Are we going to have trouble with grubs this year? Should we expect to see many Japanese beetles in 2017?
A: Both questions go together quite well. The adult stage of the grub is the Japanese beetle. In past years where we had a dry hot summer or winters where the ground froze deep, populations of Japanese beetles fell dramatically. We had a lot of rain last summer and fall, and mild winter temperatures, so the 2016 beetle populations did not suffer. They will likely continue to increase in numbers in 2017. If there is heavy feeding by the adults and lawns are green with ample soil moisture, we will have the right conditions for egg laying by the female beetle. Grub management is warranted when you find more than 12 grubs per square foot of lawn.
Even though it is officially spring on the calendar, be patient a little while longer before beginning any gardening projects. The weather needs to be more consistent before charging ahead.
• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with “This Week in the Garden” on Facebook at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos, “Down the Garden Path” at go.illinois.edu/downthegardenpath and the “Green Side Up” podcast at go.illinois.edu/GreenSideUp.