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Archive for Sunday, December 9, 2001

Give plants a good drink before winter

December 9, 2001

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As we near the holiday season, our attention is focused on trimming the Christmas tree and baking holiday cookies. However, with the drier than normal conditions this fall, the avid gardener many need to spend some time outdoors this weekend.

Many trees, shrubs and perennial flowers could use a drink of water before the weather turns cold. Here are some tips to keep your outdoor landscape healthy and strong this winter.

To protect hardy plants from cold damage, it is important that they go into winter with moist soil. University research has shown that plants that are well-watered are more likely to survive a severe winter.

Begin with the newly planted trees, shrubs and perennial flowers. Because their root systems are not fully developed, they need more attention than older, more established plants.

Next, focus on the evergreen trees and shrubs. Pine trees, spruce trees, hollies, yews and boxwood lose water much more quickly through their leaves on warm days than deciduous plants. Without additional water, they could dry out and fall victim to a hard, cold winter.

And last, concentrate on the mature perennial flowers. Although they are dormant above ground, it is important to keep the roots moist and healthy. Take care not to overwater, however. Because days are short and the sun is low in the sky, water is not lost as quickly as it is in summer. Applying too much water too often can cause roots, bulbs, corms or other below-ground plant parts to rot.

The key to success is proper watering. A good, deep watering with moisture reaching at least a foot down into the soil is much better than several light sprinklings that just wet the soil surface. This will ensure that the majority of roots have access to water.

The roots that actually absorb water are killed when the soil temperature reaches 28 degrees. Therefore, plants must rely on other roots that are deeper in the ground for moisture.

Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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