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Winnipeggers' lawns struggling to recover from tough winter

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Chris and Jim McDermid pose with new annuals in their yard Wednesday. Despite winter being hard on their yard and having to bring 10 yards of topsoil in to mitigate the damage, they're optimistic about a late-spring planting.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Chris and Jim McDermid pose with new annuals in their yard Wednesday. Despite winter being hard on their yard and having to bring 10 yards of topsoil in to mitigate the damage, they're optimistic about a late-spring planting. Photo Store

Even after the object of Jim McDermid’s angst had melted away, he was still lamenting the winter of discontent.

Perched on his front veranda, McDermid was pointing around his lawn for remnants of one of the cruellest winters on record. He points to where the snow was more than two metres high. He talks about how his furnace shut down five times because snow plugged the intake. Then there’s the large patch of black seeded soil on his front law, part of the 10 yards of dirt the McDermids ordered to spread over the brown spots that pockmark their grass, as well as lawns all across the city.

"The winter before we were in Hawaii," McDermid said. "So every time I was out shovelling snow I was thinking I was in Hawaii the same time the year before. It’s been a hard year. We know we get snow but it was more than we could bear."

Winnipeggers are still dealing with the fallout from one of the coldest and longest winters on record.

"We are definitely behind in terms of care and fertilizing lawns," Ryan Buffie, operations manager at Green Drop Lawns, said Wednesday. "Normally, we would have started a month earlier. It’s been a noticeable delay for everyone."

As one might expect, given the sudden arrival of summer, business is booming for Buffie and his Green Drop operation. Wednesday morning, his company received 143 calls over a four-hour period, with most of those calls ending in appointments for lawn aerations, seeding and fertilization care.

"The biggest thing people want fixed is the winter kill," Buffie said. "It’s been a huge issue this year."

Winter kill is caused from a lot of snow being over one area of grass. When that snow melts during the day and freezes overnight, the repetition of this cycle eventually kills the grass and then leads to snow mould. The only way to resuscitate the grass is to aerate and re-seed the section, and that process takes time to take root.

"If I had to guess, I’d say 60 per cent of Winnipeg lawns have some winter kill damage," Buffie said. "Given the winter we just went through, it’s not surprising. If you have a dead patch on your lawn, it’s probably winter kill."

Senior Barb Jenkins, who lives in Henday Crescent in St. James, was busy unloading her red wheel barrow filled with soil on Wednesday. Jenkins said the dead grass on her lawn is exactly the spot where snow shovelled off her driveway was piled up, which was lousy with salt.

"This is what happens," she shrugged. "But I’m used to it. What can you do."

Both the McDermids and Jenkins were in the process of planting their flower gardens with petunias, marigolds, geraniums and lobelias. In fact, regardless of the depths of winter, they were all delighted to get their hands dirty now.

"I’m a gardener," Jenkins said. "I don’t mind."

Field ants also a problem

Meanwhile, Buffie hasn’t been getting a lot of grumbling from customers about the winter that was and the spring that wasn’t. He said people have pretty much come to an understanding that there’s little they can do about it now. "Everyone understands what we just went through. A lot of snow, a lot of cold -- damage to the lawns was almost unavoidable."

Barb Jenkins spreads fresh topsoil on winterkill in her St. James yard Wednesday.

Enlarge Image

Barb Jenkins spreads fresh topsoil on winterkill in her St. James yard Wednesday. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Photo Store

Underneath the grass, a different battle is underway. Field ants have entered their annual expansion phase, mining the soil up out of the ground and into small piles around the yard, causing a different esthetic issue for homeowners.

"They are creating more colony space," said Taz Stuart, director of technical operations at Poulin’s Pest Control. "People will start to see those puffs of dirt all over the lawn in the grass, which is part of that expansion. They’re actually aerating people’s lawns, which is a good thing, though it’s visually not pleasing for most."

Winnipeg is currently in a two- to three-week window (the end of May to about the middle of June) for the field ant expansion.

A former city entomologist, Stuart says Winnipeggers are trying everything means possible to deal with the field ants, using both chemically-based and green products to control the unsightly colony expansion. Ant dust, which is available at most pest control and garden centres, is also a popular item.

This spring, Poulin’s is receiving about 50 calls a day from people looking to remove the ants from their lawns -- about double the amount of ant calls the pest control company usually gets at this time of year.

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

- With files from Randy Turner

History

Updated on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 12:43 PM CDT: Corrects homophone.

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