As we end the second month of the year with no measurable amount of precipitation, by most accounts, this was the driest February in history. As a logical consequence the question becomes: "Should I water?" With the threat of a frost or freezing temperatures still ahead, many gardeners are hesitant to water, as this may lead to plant growth. And new plant growth may be killed by a sudden drop in temperatures. The fact of the matter is that plants will benefit from a drink and in the long run will thank you. Here is what you need to know about watering your landscape in the days ahead:
The basic requirements for plant life are light, air and water. Although Mother Nature usually provides all three, she has been a bit stingy on the latter. To compensate for the shortfall, make plans to water. Concentrate your efforts on trees and shrubs that were planted within the past two years, lawns that were seeded or sodded last fall or this spring, shallow-rooted perennials and ornamental grasses. The sunny days combined with warm southern winds have dried the soil. Even though these plants look dormant, the roots on many of them still are actively searching for water and nutrients. Not only are you helping keep them alive, but you will be increasing their cold hardiness as well. Research has shown that plants that are hydrated can tolerate colder temperatures than plants that are stressed for water. So if we do get hit by a "blue northern" out of Canada, and the temperatures fall below zero, many more of your plants will survive to bloom another spring.
So what is the best method of winter watering? The same methods used in the summer. For newly planted trees and shrubs, turn the hose on and let it trickle at the base of the plant. Thoroughly soak the root ball and surrounding soil. For trees, a safe amount to apply would be 5 gallons of water per caliper inch of trunk. For shrubs, apply between 5 and 10 gallons of water per plant. For the lawn, apply 1 inch of water (the same amount recommended for a summer watering.) One inch of water will effectively soak to a depth of 6 inches into the soil. This is where most of the roots are growing. If you're watering perennials and ornamental grasses, there are no magic amounts; however, don't be stingy with the water.