Sarah Browning: Dry winter means time to water | Dwelling & Backyard


For this in-depth undertaking analyzing the affect of local weather change on Nebraska, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications opened the rigorous utility course of to all college students on the College of Nebraska-Lincoln. Ultimately, 20 college students drawn from seven totally different schools representing 13 totally different majors had been chosen for the yearlong undertaking. College students enrolled within the spring semester targeted totally on issues related to local weather change – together with its affect on Nebraska’s agriculture, livestock, wildlife, public well being, waterways, nationwide protection and religions. College students within the fall 2020 semester will focus totally on a spread of potential options to quite a lot of local weather change points – together with renewable power sources, sustainability initiatives, no-till farming, carbon sequestration, nuclear fusion and stronger environmental legal guidelines.

Most of this winter’s circumstances have been abnormally heat and dry, and at instances very windy. Lack of snow or rain is leading to winter drought circumstances for a lot of the state — for a have a look at present drought circumstances, go to

Within the Lincoln space, soil didn’t freeze till late December and solely remained frozen for a number of weeks, till roughly late January. In lots of areas, latest heat circumstances have decreased or eradicated frozen soil.

A scarcity of snow cowl or frozen soil permits persevering with water evaporation, worsening dry soils. Wind pulls moisture out of plant tissues and is particularly onerous on evergreens. Unfrozen soil additionally permits air temperature fluctuations to switch to the soil extra simply than does frozen soil, which is doubtlessly damaging tree and shrub roots.

This mixture of dry, unfrozen soil might simply lead to plant harm by spring in woody crops, perennials and turf. The prolonged forecast for February predicts daytime temperatures within the 40s and 50s, so is it worthwhile to water now or will it set crops up for harm when freezing temperatures return? (Don’t assume there gained’t be freezes within the subsequent 11 weeks earlier than we attain our common final frost date.)

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Time to start out watering

The reply is sure, mid-winter watering is really helpful if soils should not frozen and air temperatures are above 40 levels. Water deeply for woody crops, moistening the highest 12 to 18 inches of the soil, however water occasionally. One deep irrigation per thirty days is enough. Give attention to offering water from the trunk to the sting of the widest department, additionally referred to as the dripline, at a minimal.

However will watering trigger tree buds or different tissues to lose winter hardiness early and make them extra inclined to break from spring freezes? No, melting snow doesn’t trigger woody crops to lose winter hardiness and neither will winter irrigation. The initiation of spring development is regulated by temperature, not water.

Spring development won’t start till woody crops have reached a species-specific variety of chilling hours, also called the vernalization requirement. That is the variety of hours that accumulate with temperatures between 32 and 45 levels, starting in fall. Temperatures beneath 32 levels are ineffective at breaking down plant hormones liable for bud dormancy, so these hours don’t rely. Temperatures above 60 levels have a damaging impact on vernalization and are subtracted from the amassed chilling hours. As soon as a plant reaches its chilling hours in spring, then development can start when climate circumstances are favorable for development.

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Recognizing and managing harm

Winter desiccation harm is commonly most extreme on evergreens and broadleaf evergreens. Harm happens when the quantity of moisture misplaced by way of foliage is bigger than will be changed by roots from dry soil. Plant tissue dries out,  leading to browning of foliage and dieback, which is commonly not seen till spring. Damage is discovered on the outer portion of the branches and is most extreme on the facet of the tree going through the wind or a supply of radiated warmth, resembling a south or west-facing brick wall or avenue.

If desiccation harm does seem in spring, don’t be in a rush to prune out broken tissue. Whereas inexperienced needles could also be brown, the buds on the branches should be viable and can ultimately open. If harm isn’t too extreme and twigs should not killed, the realm could ultimately fill in. With evergreens, pruning can’t be finished previous the place there may be inexperienced leaf tissue. If that is vital, think about changing the plant with one higher tailored to the location.


Dry circumstances may also injure turfgrass. Desiccation harm is often biggest on uncovered or elevated areas the place floor water runoff is biggest. It is usually prevalent on poorly rooted turf that can’t take up water from deeper within the soil profile.

If winter irrigation is used, solely water when the soil isn’t frozen and air temperatures are above 40 levels. The objective is to rehydrate plant crowns again to a survivable degree and restore soil moisture on the floor. Keep away from extreme portions of water which can fill soil pores or runoff and current an icing hazard when chilly temperatures return. Two irrigations, 0.5 inches of water every, per thirty days needs to be enough.

Additionally keep away from trafficking excessive worth turf areas as winter drought, like summer season drought, will increase the chance of site visitors harm.

To stop crown hydration harm, keep away from watering simply earlier than a sudden temperature drop is forecast, when the bottom is frozen, or in low areas the place water would possibly acquire and stand because of frozen soil or poor drainage.

Sarah Browning is an extension educator with Nebraska Extension. To ask a query or attain her, name 402-441-7180 or write to her at or 444 Cherrycreek Highway, Lincoln, NE 68528.


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