There's so much more to a great yard than just mowing the lawn.

Water Now to Prevent Winter Kill Next Spring

If you’re still wearing sandals and shorts, you know the weather has been warmer than usual. Both September and October were four to five degrees higher than average. Yikes! That may be great for those of you who lament summer’s departure, but your landscape plants still think it’s late August.

Fall Rose with Leaves

Notice how the leaves of this rose bush are just starting to turn yellow.

In a normal year, most landscape plants usually go dormant by the time Halloween approaches. This year is different. The warm weather has caused lawns and landscape plants to still actively use water.

Next time you drive around town, notice how green the lawns are. You’ll also see many species of non-native trees haven’t yet dropped their leaves. Plants and grass with green leaves are still transpiring significant amounts of water.

Tree with Leaves

This tree hasn’t lost hardly any of its leaves. It’s definitely still using significant amounts of water.

Even though plants still need water, many homeowners and businesses have shut off and drained their sprinkler systems for the year. Mother Nature hasn’t provided much help through rain or snow. So, our plants need water, yet they’re not getting it.

You may be thinking, okay…so what. What’s the big deal?

Here’s the problem. If lawns and landscape plants go into winter in a dehydrated state, you may not see any problem for several months. In fact, it may be easier to think about more important things, like Halloween, the Broncos, and even the upcoming holidays.

However, if you ignore your landscape now, when spring rolls around you’ll notice your lawn has giant brown patches that never turn green. Or you might see entire branches on your trees never regrow any leaves. Some of your flowers and shrubs might be dead. The dreaded “Colorado landscape winter kill” will have taken its toll.

Lawn with Leaves

Green grass needs consistent watering through fall and winter to prevent winter kill.

The good news is that winter kill is easy to prevent. It only requires one magic ingredient: WATER. To keep your lawn and plants healthy throughout the winter, it’s important to hand water before the cold weather sets in. Here are some tips:

Here’s what you should water this fall

  • Watering your trees and lawn areas should be the top priority. They tend to be the most susceptible to winter kill since many of the species we use in Colorado are adapted to climates with much moister winters.
  • Watering new plants installed this summer is important, too. Newly-planted plants have a much smaller root system than established plants. They’re not able to extract water from a large area of soil yet, so it’s important to make sure the soil is moist around the rootball.
  • Lawns and plants in sunny, windy, or exposed areas should also be a high priority. These are the areas where the soil dries out the most quickly. The soil holds the water for the plants’ roots. So if the soil is dry, there’s no water they can take up.
  • Water established shrubs, flowers, ornamental grasses and groundcovers as time and budget allows. Fall watering will benefit these plants, but they’re not quite as susceptible to winter kill as lawns and trees.
  • Do not winter water cacti, succulents, buffalograss, blue grama and very xeric plants. These types of plants are used to dry fall weather, so they’ll be perfectly fine without any extra water.

How to water this fall

  • Use a hose-end sprinkler or watering wand since most automatic sprinkler systems are off.
  • To figure out how long to water, put out cups to catch some of the water. Water until you can measure 0.5 to 1” deep in the cups, on average.
  • Remove the hose from the spigot after watering to prevent freeze damage.

Remember, it’s important to winter water your lawn from November through April. Here’s a video I put together to show you how.

So, if you see trick or treaters around your neighborhood without wearing jackets, get out and water your landscape. Putting a little effort in now will ensure your landscape greens up beautifully when spring arrives!

2 Responses to Water Now to Prevent Winter Kill Next Spring

  1. Marcia Emerson October 29, 2016 at 7:34 am #

    My newly established Buffalo Grass lawn in Amarillo, TX is a mixture of green and dormant depending on its specific location in the yard. I had figured I should keep watering it until it was all dormant since this is its first fall. Now that I’ve read your post I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing. Temps are in the 80’s daily.

    What do you think in this circumstance?

    • Catherine November 4, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

      Hi Marcia, Gosh, I’m not really sure the right thing to do in Amarillo. In Colorado Springs where I live, most of the blue grama is dormant now. It’s turned a beautiful tan color. If people water it at this time of year, they just water the weeds and make more of a problem for themselves. However, if yours is still green and it’s in its first fall, I would probably continue to water it until it turns brown. That way, it will be less dehydrated over the winter months. I would trust your instincts on this one since we live in different climates. Keep us all posted on what you decide!

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