We Mainers were blessed with a string of years when spring arrived early. In fact we have come to consider bare ground and blooming crocus in March as the norm. But it isn’t, of course.

The cold season, as tired of it as we are now, in April, can prove beneficial in at least one arena; it knocks down populations of insect pests, keeping many invasive creatures at bay. Consider deer ticks. These transmit Lyme disease, a debilitating ailment that has reached epic proportions in much of Maine.

Some years ago, when writing an article on moose for Maine Fish And Wildlife Magazine, I interviewed then-Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife biologist Karen Morris. Morris was the state’s moose expert and she was a treasure trove of knowledge. I learned tick infestation was a major cause of moose mortality.

It seems when thousands of these pests attach themselves to young, old or weakened moose, the animals often die from loss of blood and accompanying shock. In early spring, ticks fall from the host animal and land on the ground. If the ground is snow covered, a majority of the ticks die, and therefore cannot complete their life cycle. This in turn means fewer ticks for the next generation. Fewer ticks means good news not only for moose, but also for humans who spend time outdoors gardening, landscaping and tending to their lawns.

And of course if the snow has melted and the ground has at least partially thawed, ticks thrive. And that was the case for the last several years. But not this year. Our late spring may well have worked for our good. This is not to say that we should not take precautions regarding ticks. We will still have deer ticks and they will carry Lyme disease. But perhaps we will not have as many cases of tick bites and fewer people will need treatment.

June bugs

June bugs, or May beetles, those huge, clumsy fliers that bump against screen doors on warm June evenings, are the adult form of a perennial garden pest. These nuisances begin life as large, crescent-shaped white grubs, the same ones we turn up when digging in our gardens. These grubs spend one or more winters in the ground, feeding on roots, often the roots of prized shrubs.

Besides any damage the grubs cause by their root predation, the real problem comes from marauding skunks and even crows. These predators dig up lawns in their hunt for grubs, turning up large chunks of turf in the process. Soil infested with white grubs is sometimes treated with insecticide prior to planting crops. But during years such as this, when mid-winter temperatures remain below freezing for a long period and snow has either not yet fallen or has melted due to a heavy rains, the frost line sinks deeper than normal. This can result in a dramatic lessening of the white grub population.

And anything that cuts down on pests naturally, without the need for chemicals, is always a good thing.

Japanese beetles

And what about Japanese beetles? These, too, appear to have benefited from the early-arriving spring weather of recent years. In fact, my Waldo County garden never had Japanese beetles until perhaps three years ago. But after that first appearance, the beetles have become more numerous with each succeeding year.

Since Japanese beetles, like June bugs, spend winters in the soil as first grubs and then pupa, the deep, penetrating frost layer may have taken its toll on them as well. Of course we will have to wait and see, but the chance exists for a reduction in Japanese beetle populations.

And if we have fewer Japanese beetles this year, we can take a higher tool on the survivors by treating our soil with Bacillus popillae, which causes milky-spore disease, toxic to Japanese beetles. Beneficial nematodes also work, as does neem oil, a product of the neem tree of India. All of these are natural controls.

So if we begin the season with fewer Japanese beetles, and kill off as many as possible with the above-mentioned benign approaches, we may have fewer to deal with next year.

Snail invasion

Tiny land snails showed up in droves last year, devouring lettuce, chard, kale, broccoli and many other vegetables. These were so numerous as to defy description. While garden slugs do their share of harm and are difficult enough to deal with, these little snails were impossible to fully control or even keep ahead of.

The snails were so numerous that they would climb up windows and glass doors in great numbers on wet days. Thorough inspection of all garden vegetables was necessary before preparing and serving and even at that, the snails were so tiny that many escaped detection.

I attempted to keep snails out of my garden beds by encircling them with diatomaceous earth (a fine powder made of the skeletons of microscopic sea creatures, available at garden supply stores). But every time it rained, the diatomaceous earth washed away. And it rained frequently last summer. My only recourse was to sprinkle insecticidal dust on my plants, not my first choice of controls.

Most of us had never seen or even imagined anything like the snail invasion that we endured last year. For me and many others, this was something new, an entirely unheard-of threat. Again, these snails are so tiny that 100 of them would probably fit inside a teaspoon.

But many land snails spend the winter in underground, hibernating, drawn up in their shells. So did last winter’s frost penetrate deep enough to kill overwintering snails? Again, it’s hard to say. We will find out soon enough, though.

By the way, the exact nature of this tiny snail has yet to be determined. According to University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, they are likely a form of ambersnail. The exact species remains unknown. In fact, the possibility exists that these are some form of exotic, non-native snail. If so, no one knows how they arrived here and what the impact of such an introduction may be.

In conclusion

The garden pests listed here are by no means the only ones that spend winters in our soil. But suffice it to say that the majority of these pests benefit from mild winters and early springs and by the same token, suffer considerably from long, cold winters when frost penetrates deeply and snow remains on the ground until well into late March and early April.

We can at least hope that this long-lasting winter has taken its toll upon these pests. And we can also wage war on whatever numbers remain, in the hopes that our efforts, coupled with the natural effects of nature, will result in fewer lawn and garden pests this year and next.

Helpful hint

In this in-between season, when winter has passed but the growing season has not yet begun, many people visit their florist for cut-flower arrangements. These add cheer and color to our homes. But cut flowers have several needs that we must address.

First, never place a vase of cut flowers in full sun. Lacking roots, they cannot absorb water fast enough to compensate for the heat and quickly die. Next, cut flowers should remain in a cool environment. That is why the florist’s arrangements are kept in a refrigerated case. The best we can do at home is to store our flowers in the refrigerator at night when we are not enjoying them. But remove any apples from the fridge, since the ethylene gas they produce sets the flowers back.