Wintertime Watering

When a plant has lost all its leaves for the winter, it’s pretty difficult to know when it’s dry. It won’t wilt! So, how’s a gardener to know when it’s time to turn on the sprinklers or pull out the hose?

The leaves are barely off the Japanese maples in the Sperry landscape and I’m already watering for winter.

My stock answer, whether it’s summer or winter or anytime in between, is you water a plant when it’s dry.

Learn to “read” your soil. If it’s turned a lighter color, I reach down and feel it. Your eyes, your fingers and your own intuition are your best tools at determining when to water.

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If it’s been more than 10 or 15 days and you haven’t had rain (or snow!), it’s almost assuredly time to soak your garden soils thoroughly. Remember that plants’ roots remain active all through the winter. That turfgrass may look absolutely brown and lifeless in northern parts of the state, but the roots are completely active. Moisture is critical.

I have a sprinkler system, and I just turn it off over the winter. It has a “smart” controller, so in theory it would only run on an “as-needed” basis, but I just don’t want it to run unless I give it the command to do so. Some winters where we live (north of DFW), I don’t run the sprinklers at all for three or four months.

For those areas that I water with a hose and a sprinkler, I always remember to disconnect the hose and drain it after I finish. Hoses left attached to faucets can freeze and cause burst pipes in the walls of your house. I had that happen one time, and it won’t happen again!

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I’m especially careful to water my winter color plants, also plants I know to be susceptible to cold injury if I hear there’s a cold front on its way. Damage will always be worse if plants go into the cold in a dry condition.

Be especially mindful of plants in containers. Their root systems are completely exposed, so they are extra vulnerable to freeze injury. Watering is critical to their survival.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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