It was the worst of winters — if you were in the snowblower business.
It’s the best of springs — if your inventory runs to lawn mowers and weed trimmers.
That’s how Patrick Almgren sees it.
The manager of Omaha’s Pruitt Outdoor Power, which sells and services both snowblowers and lawn mowers, said snowblower sales were “way, way down” this winter.
“We put the blowers away in February. But people were buying mowers three weeks ahead and we went from the worst winter to our best March,” Almgren said.
The warmest (and shortest) winter in recent memory has lawn care companies and homeowners alike scrambling to take care of the grass. In addition to mowing earlier, many are wondering when to apply chemicals and complete other tasks.
Normally, Kendall’s Lawn and Landscape would be mowing for its contracted customers by the second week in April.
“But it was probably the third week in of March and some of the lawns were really high already,” said owner Brian Kendall.
Guided by soil temperatures, he also applied pre-emergent herbicide much earlier than usual.
Moving some applications ahead a few weeks probably is a good idea, depending on factors such as ongoing temperatures, location and moisture, said John Fech, an educator in Douglas and Sarpy Counties for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. Generally, however, the old rules and dates for applications and other lawn management chores still apply, he said. For questions or problems requiring the expertise of an expert, call an extension office or consult with a master gardener.
“This year is a bit odd,” Fech said.
By now, homeowners already have set a mowing height, ideally between 2½ and 3 inches. And many, after a close look at their lawns, are finding weeds that normally show up later in spring or early summer, prompting that early herbicide application.
As for fertilizing, Fech said, an easy way to remember when is tagged to holidays: Arbor Day (April 27); Memorial Day (May 28); Labor Day (Sept. 3); and Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11).
“Treat insects — sod webworm, bluegrass billbugs and, if you have a history of them, white grubs — as you see them,” he advised.
Goofy weather this year has had experts wishing for crystal balls but returning to common-sense advice about lawns and gardens.
Fech said “right plant, right place” always makes sense when considering a new plant for the landscape.
Turf dominates most landscapes, he said, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“What’s important is to strive for function and sustainability. Choose turfgrass, for example, for outdoor play or when plants are needed to prevent erosion on a hillside. When the question is turf versus vegetable garden? Turf is better. It holds 24/7.”
As March was a great month for growing grass, it also produced a bounty of weeds.
Viewers of the NET show “Backyard Farmer” pelted expert panelists April 5 (the first show of the new season) with questions that normally wouldn’t come up until later this month or even May.
Fertilize or not? Put down pre-emergent weed killers, yes or no? Aerate now? Could crab grass already be showing up? Is it too soon to see nutsedge? Is that whitish stuff on the lawn baby powder?
After a lightning round in which experts answered as many questions as possible in a short time (six answers per panelist is fairly typical), turfgrass specialist Roch Gaussoin wryly commented that he answered 82 questions. Gaussoin wasn’t stumped. But he admitted that answers he might have given in a typical year don’t necessarily fit this year.
What seems to be a constant is the mower.
And homeowners tend to know what they want, according to Consumer Reports’ May edition. Consumers want these features in gas and electric mowers: easy starting; blade-brake clutch (stops the blade when the handle is released); premium engine; one-lever height adjustment, rear-wheel drive; electric starting; same-size wheels; and a washout port (for cleaning built-up clippings beneath the deck).
Almgren of Pruitt Outdoor Power said the zero turn radius is the feature many riding mower owners covet. This allows the driver to cut his or her mowing time in half and concentrate on other matters, like which disease is about to overtake the lawn.