Last winter Boston and the greater New England area experienced a record breaking snow accumulation of over 108 inches from December to March! With snow comes the need to protect drivers and walkers from icy and snowy conditions on roads, highways and even walkways. How do we do that in New England? We do it with thousands of pounds of chemical de-icers and salts of all varieties. While these de-icers serve a good purpose, the safety of drivers and anyone trying to get around, they also pose a threat to the organic materials like our lawns, plantings and bushes that are in the “splash and throw” zone along our properties. Let’s look at some methods to protect our lawn and plantings from salt damage this winter.
The first step to halting the damage is to understand the consequences of salts on organic materials in your yard. Rock salt is an effective, abundant, and relatively cheap de-icer and is by far the most common de-icing chemical in the United States. Excessive salt deposits (like rock salt) can travel to the stems, buds, and roots of trees, shrubs, and landscape plants which causes disfigured foliage, stunted growth and severe decline in health. Salt runoff washes from pavement into the ground, and increases salt levels in the soil, often burning grass. Snow that is laden with salts can impact plantings and lawn as far as 150 ft from the road of sidewalk. Consumer Reports has compiled a chart showing the benefits and precautions for each type of de-icing material. Ice Melt Comparison Chart
So knowing the potential damage, what can you do to protect you lawn and plantings?
- Use Salts Sparingly– While you may believe that more is better, when it comes to the lawn and plantings that are near roadways and walkways less is best. Only use what is needed. Read the labels that can give you the right amount per square foot.
- Choose Alternative – Kitty litter and sand are options that will allow for traction on ice and snow without posing the chemical hazards that most de-icers pose.
- Consider Lawn Products that Counteract Salt– There are a number of products out there that can counteract the harmful damage that excessive salt can cause. Consider talking to a lawn care professional before choosing one.
- Shovel Correctly – When possible do not pile large amounts of snow on the lawn where the salts can make their way to the grass roots or into plantings. If at all possible keep it in an area that is mulched or has rocks. Shovel away from the grade that would cause meting snow to run into your lawn or plantings.
- Spring Wash Down – When the warms a little and you are able to wash off the salt do so. Even if there is a warm day before the spring has really begun, start this process.
Every year the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) compiles the prevalence numbers for diseases across the globe and within the United States. One grouping of such diseases include the nationally reported diseases known as tick-borne illnesses such as: Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia.
As this year is winding down, it is a good time to take a look at the prevalence of these diseases in our New England area. Here is a series of maps published by the CDC showing the reported cases of the diseases listed above.
While the numbers are not completed for 2015, the numbers have been analyzed for last year. They may be alarming especially for our region which is impacted by several types of these tick-borne diseases. (Notice the graph shows Massachusetts and other New England states in the higher percentiles.) Let these numbers be a reminder to be “tick wise” in what we wear, how we examine our skin after exposure and what signs and symptoms to look for in the event of a tick bite. The Lyme Disease Association has gathered a great reminder packet to review each year as we look at these maps and numbers. Lyme Disease Association Charts
Unless you live in a bubble, getting bitten by a mosquito is an itchy nuisance that has probably happened numerous times to most New Englanders starting in early spring and lasting all the way to the first frost of fall. For the vast majority of us, the buzz, itch and bite are merely passing annoyances when spending time outdoors, in the yard or at any outing. Many of us take precautions such as having our yards sprayed, using personal chemical sprays or wearing clothing that will protect us from such bites. Unfortunately, there are mosquito-borne illnesses that can cause humans to become ill, some of us very seriously.
One such illness is West Nile Virus. West Nile virus (WNV) is most commonly transmitted to humans by those annoying, loathsome mosquitoes. Currently, there are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent WNV infection. There are insect repellents, protective clothing and avoidance of areas with high mosquito counts such as near sources of stagnant water.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), most people (70-80%) who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months. Less than 1% of people who are infected will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die.
Since West Nile is a nationally notifiable disease cases are reported and tracked via local and national health departments who then report to the CDC. The preliminary report for 2015 has notedthat:
- As of November 10, 2015, a total of 48 states and the District of Columbia have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes in 2015.
- Overall, 1,732 cases of West Nile virus disease in people have been reported to CDC.
- Of these, 1,121 (65%) were classified as neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis) and 611 (35%) were classified as non-neuroinvasive disease.
- The following maps have been made available to show prevalence of human and non-human infects.
Cuddling up on your favorite chair in front of a crackling fireplace or wood burning stove can be a relaxing and comforting addition to any winter afternoon or evening. Firewood can make your home pleasingly warm and the smell of burning wood can really set an “Norman Rockwell-type” scene for your family this season. Unfortunately, sometimes unwanted guests can crash the party via the firewood you have brought into your house!
Wood-boring and invasive insects can hitch a ride on or in your firewood and emerge up to 18 months after the wood was brought inside your home. Popular Mechanics Science Edition reports that in a recent study, “Scientists bought firewood from convenience shops and grocery stores only to watch as dozens of species emerged from nearly half of the bundles.” Much of the wood had traveled across state lines, meaning retail firewood could be spreading these pests. So how can you avoid having this happen to your home, with your firewood? Here are some suggestions to avoid inviting pests into your cozy home via firewood this winter.
- Proper Firewood Storage – Keep chopped wood away from buildings such as the outside of your home. Doing so literally invites wood-boring pests to take up residence in the structure. It is recommended that firewood be stored at least 10-20 feet from a structure. Insects and even rodents that hide in woodpiles are likely to enter small cracks, holes, or other openings when too close to the home. In addition to stacking firewood well away from the house, it is best to keep firewood up off the ground so that it is harder for pests to access it. Finally, never stack firewood indoors. Insects can emerge to take up residence within the structure, and the firewood pile can also provide attractive shelter for rodents or other wildlife or insect pests.
- Use Local Wood and Wood Usage Policy– When untreated wood is transferred from one area to another pests can emerge from the wood and begin infesting in new areas. Once you bring the wood into your home burn it immediately, which means that you should only bring in as much as you will use each time. Pests that are overwintering in the wood may come out with the warmth of your home and could set up shop in your house. Another good rule to follow is to follow “First In First Out” policy. This means using the oldest wood first, re-stacking the pile periodically if it makes it easier to access the older logs.
- Inspect Wood Before Bringing it Indoors – Look at each log, shake it, even pound it on the ground to get rid of any pests that may be attached. Spraying wood is not recommended as this could cause harmful vapors when the wood is burned.
Fall days are quickly slipping away as the temperatures plummet and the ground begins to freeze. While enjoying the crunch of leaves and looking forward to time with family indoors is wonderful, don’t forget about giving your yard one last bit of attention before it goes to bed for the winter. Take these few steps to winterize your lawn, garden and plantings and it can make a world of difference in the spring.
- Last minute Lawn Care – Time is running (out depending upon where you live) to get that last fertilizer treatment down, aerate and get in one last mowing. Fertilization is crucial in the fall to give lawns needed nutrients and energy to make it through the winter. Aeration can allow for oxygen and water to get to the roots for adequate energy storage. If the ground has already frozen you may need to wait until spring. Fortunately there are still some steps you can take to protect your yard.
- Remove All Debris – Items such as leaves, patio furniture and lawn ornaments can cause dry and dead spots. Stay on top of falling leaves and make it a habit to clean them up on a regular basis. In addition, remove any branches and dead plants from your lawn to help ensure even growth in the spring.
- Inspect for Weeds and Pests– Late fall or early winter can be a good time to inspect for damage that has been caused by weeds and pests of all varieties. If you can not identify the pests or weeds a professional lawn care company like Pro-Tech can examine the lawn to provide treatment or prevention for the spring months.
- Prep Irrigation Systems and Outside Water Sources – Shut off all outdoor water systems including irrigation systems and outdoor hoses completely and allow enough time for drainage. Review all systems’ instruction manuals and consult a professional with any questions.
- Wrap or Cover Flower Beds and Fragile Shrubs and Bushes – Cover gardens and shrubs/bushes with burlap or garden covering. Fragile or smaller plantings may be damaged by heavy snow and ice. The extra protection can help protect against snapping branches due to snow or freeze burns.
- Care for Tools – Take one last look at your lawn tools and equipment to be sure they are properly cleaned and stored for the winter. A last cleaning can ensure that the tools do not rust. Take note of any damage or repairs that need to be made over the winter.