South Central Kansas is experiencing an extended dry period that has spells of above normal warm weather and also cold weather. Your landscape plants are probably needing additional water to survive the winter unscathed. Everyone has common questions about apply water during winter so as not to harm plants or equipment.
Should I water during a winter drought?
The answer is "Yes"! During periods of winter drought, you should be rightfully concerned about your landscape plants. Horticulturists encourage people to water trees, lawns, and shrubs .
At what temperatures should water be applied to plants? Will frozen water harm the plants?
Water can be applied to landscape plants any time the temperature is above freezing and the soil is not frozen so that it can soak into the ground. Once the water is applied, the temperatures can drop below freezing and there will be no harm to the plants. Although most outside faucets have a drain to prevent freezing, for safety reasons, it is best to remove the hose from the faucet and completely drain the hose and sprinkler once the water is applied. A hose attachment does not allow for proper drainage.
What about using my automatic sprinklers? You should always remember that in winter, the weather in the Pratt area can be very warm one day and then the very next day many degrees below freezing. Extended cold, winter weather will damage an underground system if not properly drained and prepared for winter.
How much should I water?
As a general rule of thumb, soak the soil to at least a depth of 6 to 8 inches. This holds true for the lawn, flowers and some trees and shrubs. This depth provides moisture to the crowns and a vast majority of the feeder roots. Trees should be soaked more deeply.
How long should the water be applied in order to meet these criteria?
There is no easy answer to this question. How long to let the water run depends on the system applying it and the water pressure. As a rule of thumb, to apply an inch of water using an impact sprinkler in a full circular pattern will take four hours or more.
How often should I water?
Here, again, it depends on the type of plants, soil and weather conditions. Normally, a soaking every two to four weeks is sufficient. When in doubt, use the old screw driver and prove the soil. This tool is also helpful in insuring the soil isn't frozen below the surface. Plants with a limited root system such as those near sidewalks or the foundation of a building, will need to be watered more frequently than those in green areas.
Which plants need watering the most?
Newly planted trees and evergreens should be first on your list. Plants most likely to suffer from winter moisture shortage are fall-established lawns, young trees and shrubs which are five years of age or less, and especially evergreens, which are at the greatest risk during a winter drought.