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Planning for the Aftermath of the Polar Vortex

Almost the entire United States experienced record low temperatures last week when the polar vortex – a huge, low-pressure front of freezing arctic air – dipped far lower than its typical northern Canadian home into the lower 48 states. The result was subzero temperatures and even icier windchills, with parts of the country experiencing highs of around -40 last Monday. Most people hunkered down inside their homes with their heat turned up, and some brave souls ventured out for work or to watch boiling water turn instantly to steam in the frigid air. Thought temperatures have since risen to a more normal range for winter, the polar vortex will likely leave a lasting impact on lawn and trees whether you’re in Ohio or Orlando.

Winter and cold temperatures come with a number of known dangers, including damage caused by walking on frozen or frosted grass, lawn heaving caused by freezing water, and snow mold.  Snow mold is a more severe version of the lawn disease fusarium which occurs after prolonged snow cover. It is often caused by mounded snow that takes a long time to melt – if your children have built a snowman, for instance, or if you’ve shoveled your driveway and mounded the snow along the border of the driveway and lawn. Since the polar vortex was preceded by heavier-than-normal snowfall in many parts of the U.S., especially the upper Midwest, Great Lakes region and New England, the probability of your clients finding snow mold after the snow finally melts may be increased.

Lawns are also easily damaged if people are walking across the frozen grass and soil. It can be difficult to navigate half-shoveled sidewalks (or unshoveled driveways and walkways), so clients may need to brace themselves for greater cosmetic damage when the snow finally melts, and more lawn care and seeding needed in the spring when the temperatures finally start to climb.

Because the polar vortex pushed freezing temperatures much further south than normal, Spring-Green owners operating in the southern states may encounter far more lawn and tree damage than they would normally expect. Trees cope with winter by hardening, and so while most trees in the parts of the US that typically freeze come winter time had likely hardened completely by the time the polar vortex rolled in, trees and woody plants in the South likely did not. Those trees could experience injury to their cambium layer resulting in bark peeling off and general tree decline. If you operate in one of the normally-warm states that got touched by the icy finger of the polar vortex, you may want to discuss increased tree care with your clients to prepare them for what will be needed come spring.  Even trees that prepare themselves for winter will probably experience some damage from the exceptionally freezing temperatures.

It has certainly been a wild winter, the likes of which we hopefully won’t see again for a long time. But it’s never too early to start working with your clients on their spring lawn care plan, especially in the aftermath of such intense and unusual weather!