Protect Plants from Winter Problems

Now that November is here, we can begin to prepare our plants for the winter conditions. Some of those preparations are to get plants ready for cold weather and some are to protect them from wildlife.

My beautiful picture

Wildlife Damage

During the winter months we can see plant damage from deer, rabbits, and voles. Deer can chew off the ends of small twigs and bucks can rub their antlers on the trunk of smaller trees. Rabbits can also chew on smaller plants, sometimes chewing small plants off at ground level. Rabbits and voles can also gnaw on the thin bark of our young trees to feed on the green, inner bark areas. There is no cure once it happens, so it is best to protect our plants prior to damage.

Rabbit Protection, Lancaster Co. Ext

Rabbit Protection Fence, Photo from Lancaster County Extension

Exclusion is the best defense but is sometimes a difficult task. There are fences that can be utilized but they need to be at least 8 feet tall for deer damage. Rabbits can be managed with a fence that is 2 feet tall. Voles can be controlled by removing tall grass and weeds from around the trunk of trees and by avoiding mulch layers deeper than three inches around trees. Placing hardware cloth around tree trunks will also prevent vole feeding. The commercial spray repellants available for deer or rabbits are not very effective and would need to be reapplied often.

Winter Mulch

Winter mulch can be applied now, or within a few weeks when temperatures are consistently dropping down to the twenties each night. Winter mulch is the heavier layer of mulch we apply to herbaceous perennial plants and strawberries to keep them from having temperature fluxes throughout the winter. Any plant that may be prone to frost heaving, the plant being pushed up out of the soil by a constant freeze and thaw condition, or plants that were just planted this fall could also benefit from winter mulching. This mulch can be up to four inches deep, which is deeper than we usually advise but is needed for winter protection. It is better to use coarse wood chips or leaves for winter mulch rather than grass.

Winter Watering

Winter watering is essential in dry winter years. Winter desiccation commonly occurs on evergreen types of trees and shrubs. All trees are still transpiring, or losing water, throughout the winter months, evergreen trees are transpiring at a higher rate than deciduous trees. Winter desiccation occurs when the amount of water lost is greater than the amount of water the evergreen takes in throughout the winter months. The damage from winter desiccation is brown needles out on the ends of branches. However, the damage from winter desiccation will not usually show up in our trees until early spring, so they will stay green through the winter. Drought effects can damage deciduous trees as well. Especially newly planted deciduous trees. All of our trees may need to be watered throughout the winter months if natural precipitation or snow cover is absent.

Winter watering should occur during the day on days when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above and is only necessary 1-2 times per month until spring. It is a good idea to test for soil moisture with a long screwdriver or soil probe prior to watering to determine if watering is necessary. If the screwdriver goes into the soil easily up to 18 inches, watering is not necessary. However, if pushing the screwdriver into the soil is very difficult, watering would be necessary.

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Hot Weather and Plants

Drought in a lawn

Drought lawn photo from John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator in Douglas/Sarpy Counties.

It’s hard to say what normal Nebraska weather is. However, this year has been particularly difficult for our plants. The quick change from cool to hot has caused some lasting effects on our plants. Some of the common problems we have been seeing this year include: leaf scorch, drought problems, and poor pollination.

Leaf Scorch

Leaf scorch can happen on the leaves of our trees, vegetable plants, and other garden plants. Leaf scorch causes the tips of leaves of many plants to turn brown and crispy. The abrupt change in our environment from cold to hot and humid left even the most well-adapted plants struggling to stay green. Even plants that are not in full sun will be affected from the high temperatures, such as hostas that are planted in shade.

When the plant is unable to take up enough water, the leaf tissue that is farthest from the major veins will dehydrate first causing leaf margins to scorch first. Leaf scorch is not necessarily caused from lack of water, it is because the plants cannot take in enough water to compensate for what is being lost through transpiration. The moisture may be present around the roots, it just is not entering the plant as fast as it is leaving it.

Do not automatically go out an water the plants that are showing scorch. Watering may be necessary, but don’t overwater. Ensure that the plants have mulch around them and check the soil moisture before watering.

Dry Conditions

In these dry conditions we have faced through most of the growing season, it is important to remember to water your plants. But, it is always a good idea to check soil moisture before watering to help reduce the problems with overwatering. Most of our plants need about 1 inch of water per week, if they don’t receive that from precipitation, they need it from irrigation. If a screwdriver or dowel pushes into the ground easily moisture is sufficient around the plant. For trees the screwdriver should go down 12-18 inches, for perennials it should go down 6-8 inches and for turf and vegetables it should go down 4-6 inches.

Poor Pollination

The heat we are facing is also causing some slight problems with poor pollination and there are problems we could face later as our fruits begin to develop, abnormally. In this heat there is a condition called blossom drop that can occur. It is when the flowers abort and fall from the plant rather than developing into a fruit. This can also be due to drought conditions, which we are also facing. When temperatures reach 93 degrees F, pollen becomes sterilized, so even if they get pollinated, they are not fertilized and fruits will not develop.

The heat and drought we have been dealing with can also cause small fruit development and sunscald. Sunscald happens in high temperatures when our fruits develop without leaf cover. Don’t prune tomatoes too heavily or it can leave your fruits open to damage from sunscald.

We could also have problems with bitter tasting cucumbers this year. Cucumbers produce a chemical called cucurbitacin, which is bitter in flavor. Most cucumbers that we eat now have low amounts of this chemical, but they can produce more due to environmental stress. Uneven watering, drought issues, and high temperatures can all lead to the build-up of cucurbitacin. It is likely this year we may have a problem with that, and there is no way to fix it. Just be sure to try out your cucumbers while you are cutting them up for your recipes.

The leaf scorch information for this article came from Kathleen Cue, Dodge County Extension Educator.

Plant a Tree for Arbor Day

Plant a Tree blog, 2018

One of my favorite holidays is coming up, Arbor Day. As a tree enthusiast, I appreciate any holiday that urges people to plant trees. Arbor Day is always celebrated on the last Friday of April in Nebraska, this year that is April 27th. This holiday is not the same throughout the United States, it is moved around for other states to be in the best planting time for the year.

Deciding what tree to plant is very important and sometimes difficult. Diversity is key when choosing your tree. The general rule is to plant no more than 10% of a tree species, no more than 20% of a tree genus, and no more than 30% of a tree family in a respective urban area. Look around at what types of trees you have and what types of trees your neighbors have before deciding on a new tree, try to avoid everyone planting the same few trees throughout the neighborhood. Look for some unique, underutilized trees such as gingko, Kentucky coffeetree, Ohio buckeye, hornbeam, paw paw, sweetgum, or tulip tree for deciduous trees that do well in southeast Nebraska.

The most important factor to keep in mind when planting trees is how to plant a tree correctly to ensure healthy growth. First of all, remove all of the burlap and any other materials from the root ball before planting. Also remove any tags, twine, or wire from the tree. Remember to remove all the grass and weeds that are within the area you will be planting the tree. Dig a hole that is 2-3 times wider and no deeper than the root ball and loosen up the sides of the hole. Plant the tree so that root flare is at the soil surface. Do not amend the soil that is in the hole, backfill with the existing soil. Make sure that the entire root ball is covered with soil to avoid drying out.

Keep newly planted trees well-watered. Always water newly planted trees, shrubs, or any other plant immediately after planting. Trees should be watered every 10-14 days throughout the growing season and even some during the winter on warmer days. Each watering should give the tree 1-2 inches of water. The best way to determine if a tree needs to be watered is to insert a soil probe or 12-inch-long screwdriver into the ground around the tree. If it goes in easily there is no need to water, if it is difficult at any point then water is necessary for the tree.

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Tree Damaged from Lawn mower blight

A mulch ring should be established and maintained around every tree. Mulch helps to keep the roots cool in the summer and regulated to a uniform temperature through the winter. Mulch will also help keep weeds down and reduce competition from those weeds for water and nutrients. Mulch also reduces damage to the trunk of trees from lawn mowers and trimmers. Finally, organic mulch is a way to hold moisture for use later by the tree. Mulch rings should be only 2-3 inches deep and in a circle around the tree at least 2-3 feet out. Organic mulches are a better choice than inorganic mulches. This mulch will need to be renewed every year to maintain an effective layer because it will break down over the growing season which will improve the soil.

Tree Planting, 2017 (3)Staking a tree is not a mandatory practice. If you do have to stake the tree due to high winds, make sure that the tree has plenty of movement to allow it to build stronger roots. Also be sure that the staking material is removed after the first year to avoid the tree being damaged by the staking materials.

What to do in the Spring?

Spring Things Blog Post

Spring is here. That is wonderful for the weather and the desired plants and flowers, but it also means the insects and weeds are coming back. If you know what you are dealing with, management is achievable.  

Henbit

Henbit is one of those not so desirable weeds that shows up in our lawns in the spring. We don’t really notice it until it begins to bloom and at that point, it is too late for control. Henbit is the early spring weed that blooms purple along the edges of our sidewalks and driveways.

henbit, steve dewey, Utah State Univ, Bugwood

Photo of Henbit from Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org

Henbit is a winter annual. This means that henbit only lives for one growing season, but it’s development is different from something like crabgrass which is a summer annual. A winter annual is a plant that germinates in the fall and grows a bit before basically becoming dormant for the winter months. Very early in the spring, henbit will start to grow again, produce flowers and seed for the next year then it will die when the temperatures warm up. This is different from a summer annual which germinates in the spring and goes through its lifecycle through the summer months and dies with our fall frosts.

The problem with henbit is that by the time we see it, or rather see the purple flowers, it is too late to treat for the year. Once the flowers begin to show up, it is already producing seed for next year, so killing blooming henbit is unnecessary because it will die naturally and the chemicals won’t reduce production for next year. However, pulling the plant would be a fine management practice after blooming has begun. It can be sprayed with a 2,4-D product very early in the spring once it has greened up but before it blooms. If you know where it is you can spray it before it blooms. Otherwise, wait until this fall to spray those areas with a pre-emergent herbicide before it germinates in the fall.

Lawncare

This is the time of the year when we want to start seeing color in our lawns. We begin to think we need to fertilize, overseed, and use crabgrass control. Don’t get ahead of the weather with these things. It is still fairly early for overseeding, it can be done in April, but anytime by the end of April to the early part of May is still fine for overseeding. Overseeding too early could cause the seed to germinate in warmer weather. If that warm weather is followed by freezing temperatures, it could damage the newly emerged grass. Fertilization should not be applied until mid to late April when temperatures warm up more consistently.

Crabgrass preventer should not be applied too early in the year either or it will break down before the crabgrass begins to emerge. Crabgrass preventer should be applied when the soils are consistently at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. A split application, applying more 6-8 weeks after the first application will ensure crabgrass control through the season.

Asparagus

green-asparagus-pixabayAsparagus is a great vegetable that many people enjoy growing and eating. Now is the time to clean up your asparagus beds if you haven’t done so already. It is a good practice to allow asparagus fronds to stand through the winter to help trap snow during the winter months, providing moisture for the crown of the plant as the snow melts.

If you are planting a new asparagus bed, dig a trench 6-8 inches deep and plant the crowns in that, only covering with a couple of inches of soil. As the plants grow up through the soil, continue to add a couple of inches of soil at a time until the soil in the trench is level with the surrounding soil. Wait for 3 years before you begin harvesting to allow the roots to get fully established.

Salt is not a recommended weed control for asparagus. Asparagus is a salt tolerant plant, but it doesn’t thrive in salty soil environments. Also, the salt in the soil can begin to break down the surrounding soil, leaving you with bad soil for the asparagus and other plants growing nearby. For weed control, it is best to use mulch throughout the season.

Mulch

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When I think about spring, I always think about planting. It is fun, stress relieving, and rewarding for me to get my hands dirty and plant some new plants or change what I have in my garden. One thing to always remember when planting a garden or cleaning up an existing one is the mulch.

Mulch is a great benefit to our plants. Mulch can help work as insulation for our plants through the winter months, protect them from lawnmower blight, hold moisture near the plants, and reduce weed competition.

In the winter months, mulch is helpful to keep our plants insulated from freezing temperatures. However, mulch does not necessarily keep the roots of the plants warm, it keeps the temperatures from constantly freezing and thawing. In the winter months, freezing and thawing of the soil can push the plant out of the soil in a condition called frost heaving. This can expose the crown to winter temperatures and possibly kill the plant. We often add extra mulch during the winter months to help protect our plants more. The plants then are adjusted to growing in the conditions under the extra mulch, which is why it is important to wait to uncover them for the spring. If the plants start to green up under the mulch or pop through the mulch you can pull the mulch back away from the plants, leaving it nearby to cover the plants back up if freezing temperatures are predicted again. It is best to wait until early May to fully uncover those plants, once the threat of frost has passed for the year.

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Tree damage from Lawn Mower Blight

Mulch also helps protect our plants from a condition we refer to as ‘lawnmower blight’. Lawnmower blight often occurs to our trees and shrubs growing right in the turf with no mulch around them. It is when the mower or weed trimmer gets too close to plants damaging the trunk or branches of the shrub. This damage disrupts the flow of water and nutrients through the tree, but it usually does not kill the plant. Having the mulch ring will keep the lawn equipment back away from the tree.

 

Mulch is also great for our plants during the spring and summer months to help keep moisture near the plant and reduce competition from other plants around the tree or other desired plants. Wood chips will hold moisture that will eventually be released back out to the plants for extended water availability. The layer of mulch will also help reduce competition for water, nutrients, and space from other plants growing nearby. Turf is included as a competition for our landscape plants. It is best for the overall health of our desired plants to keep the competition limited around the roots.

Mulch needs to be applied correctly to help the plants, if applied incorrectly it can damage them. A layer of mulch 2-3 inches deep is the recommendation. Too deep and you can start to starve the roots of oxygen and the roots may begin to grow in the mulch out of the soil. If the mulch is applied to shallow, weeds will come up through it. Avoid mulch volcanoes which can cause a great deal of damage to the plant. Coarse textured mulches are better for plants than fine textured mulches which can become compacted, reduce oxygen to the plants, and allow more weeds to penetrate.

Organic mulches are preferred over inorganic mulches. Organic mulches would include wood chips, straw, leaves, and untreated grass clippings. Inorganic mulches such as rock or crushed rubber would not give the benefits to plants that organic mulches would. Inorganic mulches do not hold onto water and they make the plants and the roots much hotter in the summer and reflect that heat onto the plant causing more drought and heat stress to the plants. Inorganic mulches would be best used in xeric landscapes and rock gardens.

Planting for Water Savings

Water Wise landscape

Spring will be here before we know it, which is very exciting for plant enthusiasts. We can get outside and do some cleanup once it starts to get warm. Don’t get too excited though, winter could still show up for a couple more months. One thing you can do now, though, is plan your garden.

Choose Well-Adapted Plants

When planning your garden, pay close attention to the growing requirements of the plants you choose. Select plants that are suited for your growing zone. Southeast Nebraska is in zone 5B. Also, utilize plants that have similar growing conditions for each area or garden in your landscape. For example, shade plants should be planted with other shade plants and water loving plants should not be planted with drought tolerant plants.

Be Water Wise

Nebraska often sees periods of drought through the hot part of the summer. For water saving options, look to drought tolerant plants. Some good choices for drought tolerant plants include

  • Yarrow, Achillea spp.
  • Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia
  • Coneflower, Echinacea spp.
  • Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta
  • Daylily, Hemerocallis spp.
  • Salvia, Salvia spp.
  • Viburnums, Viburnum spp.
  • Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius
  • Maidengrass, Miscanthus sinense
  • Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii
  • Little Bluestem, Schizachrium scoparium

These plants will grow well with no supplemental water in normal precipitation. There are also quite a few plants that need very low amounts of supplemental water, which are good choices as well, these include

  • Shrub Roses, Rosa spp.
  • Penstemon/Beardtongue, Penstemon spp.
  • Plumbago/Leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
  • Coral Bells, Heuchera spp.
  • Butterfly Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa
  • Lilies, Lilium spp.
  • Phlox, Phlox paniculata

Why does it matter if you use drought tolerant plants? These plants will survive better in our summer environment when it gets very hot and dry. Also, this will help reduce the amount of water we are applying to our landscapes. Water is limited in supply and costly to use. If we minimize the amount of water needed for irrigation, everyone will benefit.

When to Water

Remember, if you are utilizing plants that are more drought tolerant, only water when necessary. Plants will tell you when they need to be watered, they will begin to wilt and show signs of water stress before reaching the permanent wilting point from which they will not recover. Many times, too much water is used in low water-use landscapes due to the tendency of homeowners to overwater.

Take Control of Your Irrigation System

There is also a tendency to overwater with in-ground or automatic sprinkler systems. Many times people use the “set it and forget it” thought process for watering the lawn with an automatic system, but that will actually use more water than what is needed. According to the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, the research from 2000 shows that homes with in-ground sprinkler systems use 35% more water than those without an in-ground sprinkler system. Those who have automatic timers to control those in-ground sprinkler systems use 47% more water than those without timers. It is better to only turn on the sprinkler system when you need to water rather than having it run all season on certain days or times. Also, make sure that you turn the sprinklers off in the rain or just following a rain event, or purchase a water sensor for your landscape to avoid watering when the soil is wet.

Economic Benefits of Landscaping

These statements are not meant to deter people from having a nice landscape. In fact, landscapes can increase the value in your home, reduce crimes, increase the rate of healing at a hospital, provide oxygen, and decrease carbon dioxide in the environment. According to research done by Colorado State University, there are 25% fewer crimes in public housing with landscapes, children who spend time outdoors are better learners, and every $1 invested in a home landscape yields a $1.35 return on the investment.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting Seeds Indoors Blog

We are now getting to the time of year where we can begin starting seeds indoors for transplants later this spring. Late February into March is the time of the year when transplants can be started inside our homes, spring will come eventually. Growing transplants from seed takes more work than just buying transplants, but purchasing seed rather than plants is less expensive and you are able to get the varieties you really want rather than just what is available in the nurseries.

It is best to wait until Mother’s Day to plant transplants of warm season crops into the garden. It takes about 8 weeks to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed, so count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors. Since Mother’s Day this year is on May 13th, the time to start tomatoes and peppers would be the middle of March. Don’t start your transplants too early or they will get too tall and spindly.

Good transplants begin with good care. Start with good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture. For growing media, you can use a potting soil, or a soil-less mixture that contains vermiculite, perlite, and/or peat moss. Just make sure that the growing media is well-drained and has been moistened prior to planting into.

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You can start the seeds in seed trays or other types of containers. You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, just make sure all equipment has been cleaned thoroughly prior to reuse. To clean the pots, wash them in soap and then soak them for 10 minutes in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. There are a lot of other, less expensive, materials that can be used to start seeds in. Newspapers can be reused to make a planting pot, look for methods of how to fold them online. You can also use paper or plastic cups, small yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese containers, soda or water bottles with the top cut off and small milk cartons. Just make sure that you make a few drainage holes in the bottom of these containers. If the container doesn’t have a drainage hole in it, the soil will not drain properly causing problems, including death, for your seedlings.

Transplants need to be grown in favorable environmental conditions. Plants should be grown in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Too cold or too warm can reduce the rate of germination or the plants may grow leggy or improperly. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings.  This light source can be as simple and inexpensive as a utility light or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb. Fertilization can be applied weekly with a one-quarter strength, soluble fertilizer. Do not fertilize the seedlings if they were allowed to dry out. Replenish the moisture in the plants prior to applying fertilizer to avoid burning the seedlings.

Two weeks prior to planting outdoors in the garden, you will need to prepare the plants to outdoor conditions, this transition is called hardening off. Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days. Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun. Be sure to still bring the plants indoors at night, especially if a frost is predicted. Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.

Spring will come…Eventually

Thinking about spring planting blog, Jan 16, 18

It has been quite cold the past few weeks. It is hard to think about spring, but maybe thinking about it will warm us up and bring spring weather back to Nebraska sooner. We can begin to plan our landscapes this time of the year to have a plan in place as soon as planting season begins.

Landscaping seems to never be completely finished. Every year you find new plants you really like and unfortunately it is common to lose a few here and there. When you are thinking about a redesign in your landscape, be careful to avoid causing problems to existing plants you want to keep. A common problem I see is when people add soil around an existing tree to add a decorative block border or a new garden bed or to level off a slope surrounding a tree. People often add soil to roots that have emerged from the soil so that they can continue to mow over the roots. Once a tree is growing in a location, adding soil to the rootzone of the tree can and likely will kill the tree.

Tree roots need to breath just like the rest of the tree does. When you add soil to the existing soil around roots, it will basically suffocate the tree. The majority of tree roots are found in the top 18 inches of soil, they are there so that they still have access to oxygen. If you add more soil to the area around the tree, those roots will now be deeper in the soil profile and unable to get the oxygen they need to survive. The tree won’t die immediately from this addition of soil, but overtime the roots will die.

Exposed Tree Roots, J. Fech

Exposed Tree Roots photo from John Fech, Nebraska Extension

Also, when thinking about your landscape and what changes you will make to it, think about common problem areas. If you have Lilacs that are severely damaged every year with powdery mildew or roses that constantly have black spot, maybe it is time to rethink those plants. If a plant commonly has disease problems, it may be planted in the wrong location. Plants only grow to the best of their abilities in locations where they are supposed to grow. Hostas that are planted in full sun will develop brown, papery areas on their leaves every summer. In this case, the hosta isn’t planted in the best location and should be transplanted to more shade. This gives you a new area of full sun to plant something different in.

Try to think about all of the problems you have had in your landscape in the past. Sometimes our plants grow too large for the area they are planted in. If the plant needs to be pruned often throughout the year so it doesn’t grow over a sidewalk or window, it might be time for removal and replacement with something smaller. Or if the plant has a seedhead that is troublesome to you in some way, replacement may be a good option. Maybe the plant has a heavy top and weak stem, causing it to flop down in your garden or causing you to pinch it back often when you don’t have the time or ability. If this is the case try replacing it with a more self-reliant plant. Landscapes can become weedy or overgrown if the space is too large to manage in your spare time, keep your landscape at a manageable level for you.

Ice and Snow in the Landscape

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Now that we are through the holidays, there is a little less hustle and bustle going on. It was nice to have been blessed with a white Christmas. Fortunately, the snow wasn’t too deep, but there was plenty that we had to get outside for a little cleanup on the sidewalks and driveways. With all the snow we received over the weekend and plenty more weeks of winter to go, I thought I’d give you all a reminder of how to properly take care of snow to not harm our plants.

Deicers can cause damage to our concrete sidewalks and to our plants growing beside them. Many deicing agents contain salt substances, such as sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Because of the salt content found in these products, it can cause severe damage to our plants, if too much is piled on them too often. Typical plant symptoms of salt damage include desiccation (drying out), stunting, dieback, and leaf margin and tip damage that looks as though the leaves were burned by a chemical.

Bag of Deicer

To avoid damage to the concrete, remove the salt as soon as you can. Deicers are meant to make shoveling easier, not to completely melt away the snow and ice. As soon as the salt melts through the ice and snow enough that it can be removed, go out and shovel it off of the concrete. When removing the snow, do it in a manner that protects the landscape plants growing in the yard. Do not pile the snow onto trees, shrubs, or flower gardens. If it has to be piled onto your landscape, move the salt onto the grass and try to do it in a manner that makes it more uniform on the grass surface. If too much salt continually gets piled up on the grass in one location, the turf can be harmed.

The snow didn’t build up too much on our trees with this past snow storm, but when we get a lot of heavy, wet snow, this can be a concern. Sometimes, ice and snow can build up on the branches of our trees and shrubs and can cause the branches to bend improperly. We saw this problem last January with the ice storm that came through. It is best to let snow and ice melt naturally off of our plants. Snow can be lightly brushed off of branches with a broom, if you desire. Do not try to hit the ice off of the tree branches because this can cause you to break some of the branches, which will be more detrimental to the plant. If there is snow on your tree causing it to bend down, it will reform in the spring once the snow melts off of it.

Finally, watch out for your lawn in the winter months as well. It is best to minimize winter traffic on any turf area and especially when frost is present on green turf. If frost has formed and foot or vehicle traffic occurs, the physical abrasion can damage turfgrass. Winter traffic can cause aesthetic damage, physical abrasion, and/or soil damage depending on the situation. Too much traffic on turfgrass at a time when it cannot recover also leads to winter injury. If you have to walk on the lawn for some reason, such as to take a pet outside, try to use a different path each time.

Winter Watering

Winter Watering blog

It’s hard to think about our plants in the winter months. It is even harder to realize that they are still alive and sometimes need care in the winter months. Once plants go dormant for the year many people believe that they need nothing until spring, but that isn’t always the case, especially in years with low or no snow or rain throughout the winter months.

Winter watering is essential in dry winter years. Winter desiccation commonly occurs on evergreen types of trees and shrubs. All trees are still transpiring, or losing water, throughout the winter months, evergreen trees are transpiring at a higher rate than deciduous trees. Winter desiccation occurs when the amount of water lost is greater than the amount of water the evergreen takes in throughout the winter months. The branches and needles of our trees will die. The damage from winter desiccation is brown needles out on the ends of branches. However, the damage from winter desiccation will not usually show up in our trees until early spring, so they will stay green through the winter. Drought effects can damage deciduous trees as well. Especially newly planted deciduous trees need to be watered throughout the winter months if natural moisture is absent.

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Damage to Arborvitae following a dry, windy winter

Ensure adequate watering throughout the entire growing season for all trees and shrubs, especially those recently planted. Make sure that the tree is well watered going into the fall. Also, water throughout the winter when the ground is not frozen to help the trees through a dry winter, if necessary. Winter watering should occur during the day on days when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above and is only necessary 1-2 times per month until spring. It is a good idea to test for soil moisture with a long screwdriver or soil probe prior to watering to determine if watering is necessary. If the screwdriver goes into the soil easily up to 18 inches, watering is not necessary. However, if pushing the screwdriver into the soil becomes very difficult after the first couple of inches or less, watering would be necessary. After watering, apply a light layer of mulch over the roots of the tree, but not up against the trunk to avoid problems with voles.

Turf is another plant to take into consideration regarding winter watering. Winter desiccation can occur on turf when the soil is frozen, making water unavailable to plants. It is more problematic on sunny, dry, windy days when the air temperature is above freezing but the soil is dry or frozen, according to Bill Kreuser, UNL Turfgrass professor. Bill Kreuser states that, a little bit of drought stress prior to winter can actually help prepare the turf for winter conditions, it helps harden off the turf before any severe cold happens. It is actually better for the turf to have drought prior to winter rather than go into the winter with higher precipitation, as has been the case this year.

That being said, home lawns are more tolerant of winter desiccation stress because the Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and buffalograss have a deeper root system and less overall stress than turf on the golf course. Established lawns may not need winter watering, but newly planted lawns may be more susceptible to winter desiccation. However, if we face a dry winter with little to no snow cover, irrigation may be needed at low amounts. Ensure that winter watering is not through an irrigation system or it will need to be cleared out again so the pipes don’t freeze and burst. It is best to hand water with a hose or bucket in the winter months.