Gardens may need winter watering

STILLWATER – Although spring is on the horizon, Oklahomans are still facing several more weeks of winter. Some gardening enthusiasts may think there is not much to do for the landscape right now. However, the lack of watering is a major cause of winter damage.

Dry soil, coupled with strong winter winds, can wreak havoc on a plant, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.

“Even though it seems plants are dormant in the winter, all plants, especially narrowleaf and broadleaf evergreens, use and need water during the winter,” Hillock said. “When little or no soil moisture is present, plants can become desiccated and it’s more likely root damage also will occur.”

Despite the fact the groundhog did not see its shadow, indicating spring is on the way, there is still plenty of time left for wintery weather. When dry cold fronts are predicted, water the landscape at least 24 hours in advance of the front. Apply about ½ inch of water at the time of watering. A sunny day on moist soil helps warm the soil and root area, thus reducing the amount of time the roots will be exposed to cold temperatures.

Hillock said it is important to keep in mind moisture must be available below the frost line or frozen soil.

“When the soil freezes, if moisture isn’t present in soil pore spaces, moisture is pulled from plant roots to form the ice crystals. This results in desiccated roots, otherwise known as winter kill,” he said.

Although watering is essential during the winter months, common sense also must be practiced. If you have an automated sprinkler system, do not allow the sprinklers to come on during a hard freeze. This can cause serious damage to your system.

In addition, some plants also can be damaged if ice forms on them. Wayward water can freeze on your sidewalks and driveway, which can create a slick and hazardous situation for you, your family and others who visit your home. If the water runs out into the roadway, it can freeze and cause problems for passing vehicles.

Too much water can result in other problems during the winter. Cold wet soils can lead to rotting roots. Soils with more than ample moisture also may encourage winter weeds to germinate and flourish. Water only every two to three weeks and apply only enough water to moisten the top 6 or so inches of soil. “If you have plants growing in above ground planters, make sure they are on your watering schedule, especially if the planters are located under the eaves of the home,” Hillock said. “It’s likely they will receive very little natural precipitation, even during a wet winter.”