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Winter watering

Winter watering: Why it’s important

Fall has been on the dry side. According to the United States Drought Monitor we are experiencing abnormally dry conditions. Remember that plants use water during the winter — just not as much. Winter’s freeze and thaw cycles also remove moisture from the soil. And don't forget about the effects of drying winds.

Bottom line, the soils are currently on the dry side and we know that a plant that is well hydrated will survive winter conditions and be a stronger, more established plant come spring and throughout the rest of summer.

Follow these simple watering tips in the winter

  1. You are free to water any time during the winter as long as the soil is not frozen and temperatures are above freezing when applying. It does not matter if the temps fall below freezing after the application as frozen water in the soil will not harm the plants.
  2. Plants most at risk are young trees and shrubs five years of age or less. Evergreens also suffer as they tend to lose more moisture during winter. A deep thorough soaking should last for a month of more, depending on the moisture patterns.
  3. Don’t forget your lawn. Lawns have shallow roots and can feel the effects. Fall-established lawns especially need moisture to survive the season. A lawn that is well-hydrated over winter will also start to green up earlier in the spring.
  4. Protect your home foundations from cracking by using sprinklers or soaking hoses placed about one to two feet from the foundation. Never fill in cracks with added soil. When it does rain the soils will expand placing additional stress on the foundation.

How much should you water?
As a general rule of thumb, soak the soil at least six to eight inches deep. 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. Larger trees should be soaked more deeply.

How long should the water be kept on in order to meet these criteria? It depends on the system applying it and the water pressure. The best way to measure your water output is with the use of a rain gauge. For example, to apply an inch of water using an impact sprinkler in a full circular pattern often takes four hours or more.

How often should you water? A soaking every two to four weeks is normally sufficient. When in doubt, probe the soil using a screw driver or metal rod. When the soil is dry, reapply water according to the above recommendations.

Remember to disconnect the hose from the outside faucet and drain.

by Dennis Patton, horticulture agent, Johnson County K-State Research and Extension


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