Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A real pain in the grass

Winterkill, ants making a mess of city lawns

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Barb Jenkins spreads fresh topsoil on winterkill in her St. James yard Wednesday. It was a tough winter for both people and lawns.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Barb Jenkins spreads fresh topsoil on winterkill in her St. James yard Wednesday. It was a tough winter for both people and lawns. 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 at 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 lawn, part of the 10 yards of soil the McDermids ordered to spread over the brown spots that pockmark grass 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."

'A lot of snow, a lot of cold -- damage to the lawns was almost unavoidable'

-- Ryan Buffie, Green Drop Lawns

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 winterkill," Buffie said. "It's been a huge issue this year."

Winterkill 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 reseed 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 winterkill 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 winterkill."

Senior Barb Jenkins, who lives on Henday Crescent in St. James, was busy unloading her red wheelbarrow filled with soil 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. But I'm used to it. What can you do?'

-- homeowner Barb Jenkins

"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.

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

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 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."

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're actually aerating people's lawns, which is a good thing, though it's visually not pleasing...'

-- Taz Stuart, Poulin's Pest Control, on the bright side of ants

"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. Despite being a natural aeration mechanism for lawns, the process is often looked upon as a yard eyesore.

A former city entomologist, Stuart said Winnipeggers are trying everything 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.

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 6:55 AM CDT: Replaces photo

12:05 PM: The McDermids ordered 10 yards of soil.

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