Uncovering the mystery of snow mold

Snow mold.

A few days ago, I took a walk around the garden. The sun felt warm and nourishing. As I pulled a weed next to a tired spinach plant, I glanced down at the ground and spotted a purple crocus. Yawning in the sunlight, it was a beautiful sight, in spite of the company it kept (twisted blades of scraggly brown grass). 

I lingered awhile longer, savoring the fresh air, glad that we’re gaining five minutes a day of light and the snow was almost gone from the front lawn. I praised the crocus’ tenacity to survive such a winter. I don’t know about you, but enduring seven months underground, day and night, rain, sleet, snow and the occasional droplet of eagle poop is not my idea of fun.

I tip-toed my way around the crocus and headed over to the greenhouse to check on the tulip bulbs that, last fall, I’d jammed into totes of leftover potting soil.

“What … what’s this?” Suspended on the tops of the scraggly brown grass were little, white trampolines of what looked like spun fabric.

I snapped a picture and sent it to the Alaska Home Gardeners Facebook page with the following notation:

Dear gardeners,

The good news: Snow is melting.

The odd news: It left something behind … I’m happy that the snow has departed from my lawn, but what is this fibrous stuff?

Deb Blaylock, an administrator for the popular gardening group, answered right back.

“It’s snow mold,” she said. “Gray snow mold looks like white spider webs and leaves dead, bleached areas immediately after the snow melts.”

Most comments following Deb’s post had a positive slant. “It’s nothing to worry about,” one grower said. “It will disappear,” said another.

I wished it was that simple. According to Purdue University (a link to which Deb supplied the group on the Facebook conversation thread), gray snow mold “may progress down into the crown [of the turfgrass], resulting in plant death or more severe and lasting damage.”

Hmm, lasting damage. For the last few winters, our lawn made it to spring with flying (green) colors. This year was certainly different. Purdue University and Alaska Extension experts agree that the affected turf will recover in spring. And that “raking the matted turfgrass opens up dense pockets and increases air flow within the turf canopy.”


Caution: Allergic reactions

Snow mold is a fungus. It is dormant during the warmer months. But if you’ve been feeling sneezy and stuffy lately, with watery eyes, it could be due to melting snow combined with, you got it, snow mold. Inhaling the spores can cause allergic reactions.

Upsetting a source of fungi launches it into the atmosphere. Be careful while walking in infested areas, especially on dry and windy days.  

Now that I have a better understanding of snow mold, I’ll get my rake out … after a good rain!


So let’s talk about seeds

A feel-good event for all gardeners is the arrival of seed racks in local stores. No, you’re not too late to start seedlings. (See list of what to start at the end.)

However, since COVID-19 has changed how retailers do business around town, I reached out to the staff of Sutliff’s Hardware. “What is the drill for people to buy seeds?” I asked.

First, Sutliff’s carries a large selection of seeds from the following companies: Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial, Ed Hume Seeds and Botanical Interests. As for accessing the store, here we go:

Mondays will be phone-in orders only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 486-5797 to ask any questions and place your credit card or in-house account order. Staff will gather your items and call you when your order is ready. (There are no cash sales on Mondays.) You can pick items up at the door or call the store and they will deliver them to your vehicle, drive-in movie style.

On Tuesday to Saturday, they are open for walk-in or call-in business from  9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The store is closed on Sundays.

So, it’s a different kind of spring in many ways.

As the sun creeps higher into the sky each day and snow gives way to squishy ground, gardeners are heading down to the beach to collect seaweed and sand. Seaweed is on the list of organic matter that performs miracles in the garden.

Remember, organic matter is the key to amending less-than-perfect garden soil, a fact of life in Kodiak. You can’t change the type of soil you live with per se, but adding organic matter makes your soil more like loam. Loam contains tiny air and water pockets, perfect for carrying nutrients and moisture to and around the root zone. 

And I know you’ve heard this before, but to prepare for spring, here is a gentle review to explain why organic matter improves garden soil in the following ways:

• It helps loosen and aerate dense soil.

• It improves the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of sandy soil.

• It provides the once-living material that attracts microorganisms, beneficial fungi, worms and other soil-borne critters that improve the health of your vegetables.

• It feeds the soil micro-nutrients and improves its tilth, as does sand.

Feed the soil, and you feed your plants.

Remember too, food is your first medicine. When you grow and eat healthy food, you boost your immune system. Every little bit helps these days, right?


Garden job jar

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, peppers, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes.

Flowers and herbs to start from seed: Calendula, cosmos, snapdragons, stock, dianthus, parsley, dill, cilantro (first batch) and cress. (Too early yet for nasturtiums.)


Get Marion’s free Photo Tips PDF, a collection of her favorite photography tips, on her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com. Connect with Marion: Facebook and Instagram or send an email to Marion at mygarden@alaska.net.


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