While it may be out of sight, out of mind, damage is being incurred by high foot or vehicle traffic on your landscape throughout the winter, but is especially concerning now when soils are beginning to thaw. Soil conditions currently range from still being frozen, to being partially thawed and some areas are both frozen and thawed depending on soil depth and location.
Damage can be most severe when the top several inches of soil is thawed, while deeper layers are still frozen. Partially frozen soil will be extremely wet at the surface, both turf and soils will be very susceptible to damage from shearing and rutting under these conditions. If possible, all traffic, including foot traffic should be suspended while this condition is present.
Soil has been frozen and technically remained at freezing temperatures for some time now. In fact this past week was the first time in several months when soil temperatures in the top 2 inches exceeded 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature beneath areas covered with turfgrass retain heat more efficiently, due to the insulating effect of vegetation.
At this time of year soil will be very loose due to heaving and can be very wet or even saturated. Well drained areas will be able to solidify quicker, but poorly drained soils will remain at risk for damage from traffic. Avoid traffic of any kind on vulnerable landscape areas.
Soil should be allowed to completely thaw and drain at least to field capacity, more if possible, before foot or vehicular traffic can be reinstated. Drainage and drying helps frost-heaved areas resettle and firm up. Although areas of the landscape which experienced extensive frost heaving may require light rolling if it still remains loose even following thawing and drainage. Even though we are all anxious to get back onto our landscapes and into our gardens once spring has officially sprung, caution needs to be exercised on thawed and thawing soils so as not to incur further damage.