Proper Winter Watering to Get Your Plants Through the Cold Successfully

Frostbitten PlantsWith winter officially in full swing, you may have seen some changes in the watering needs of your plants. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to cut back on the water you are providing them as they need less this time of year. Here are some tips and guidelines for saving your plants and money through this winter where water is concerned.

Common Sense Vs. Protocol and the Norm
When it comes to scheduling your irrigation program, settings will vary depending on who you speak with. Generally speaking, Cherry Landscape recommends you water your plants three to four times a week during the summer for 2 ½ hours per watering and one to two times a week for 2 ½ hours during the winter months.

scheduling is based on an average, assuming most irrigation drip systems are more than 10 years old. Newer irrigation systems, depending on construction and design, can be used less frequently because they typically water more dependably.

Weather Variations
Plants in the low deserts of Arizona typically require three to five times less water during the winter months, but be on the watch for signs of dehydration such as wilting and browning of leaves. Plants at higher elevations may not need as much supplemental water for many months during the winter, especially if they are native to the area such as xeriscaping. You need to be able to discern between dehydration and frostbite. With dehydration, plants will be drooping and wilted while frostbitten plants will look very brown within a week after a heavy frost.

Water Deeply
Regardless of your irrigation system’s age or design, it is important to water deeply, which is why we recommend 2 ½ hours. Less saturation creates a shallow root system, causing plants to dehydrate. This will force you to water more frequently as the plants age, creating a cycle that does not end. Watering deeply allows the roots to grow down into the soil where moisture is best retained. Apply water only as quickly as it can be absorbed by the soil.

Where To Water
Most plants have a root system that spreads under the ground 1 ½ to three times the width of its canopy. The canopy is the outward extension of the plant’s branches and leaves. It is important to water the entire root zone each time you water. Be aware that most water is absorbed by the roots outside of the canopy drip line.

Larger Plants and Mature Trees
Be sure to move emitters to large shrubs and mature trees away from the base of the root ball as they grow. This keeps the plants from becoming root bound. Regarding larger, mature Mesquite trees, it is advantageous to cap the emitter entirely to prevent it from becoming root bound and unstable during monsoon season. High winds during this time of year could topple trees with a shallow root system. Usually, such mature trees receive supplemental water from surrounding vegetation with irrigation.

Old Irrigation Systems
If your irrigation system is older, it can cause you to have to water more frequently because of its age and deteriorating condition. For example, roots that have grown into the irrigation lines and have impeded the flow of water may hamper the ability of your system to properly deliver water to plants. This is not to mention continual leaks and breaks that tend to occur with older systems, which can lead to the owner simply watering less frequently to conserve on the expense at the sake of the landscape.

New Drip Irrigation Systems
While old poly irrigation systems lasted upwards of 10 years, new poly irrigation lines only last approximately three to four years before beginning to break. The reason behind this is simple. The quality of poly lines is not what it used to be. While the installation is cheaper than the alternative PVC multi-port system, you will begin having problems sooner than expected, so be prepared.

PVC Multi-port Systems
This alternative combines the best of both worlds. PVC pipe tends to have a longer life span than poly. Another terrific benefit is that the emitter outlets, or multi-ports, which are housed in a small round irrigation box with a lid, can be changed easily if needed. 

With this kind of a system you can curtail your watering schedule simply by effectiveness of its construction and durability. Cherry Landscape still recommends at least 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours of watering three days a week for summer and 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours one to two days a week for winter, depending on temperature, with this kind of system.

Preventing Frozen Water Lines
Freezing pipes can cause a winter crisis if you aren’t careful. A few minutes of preparation can help you avoid costly disasters. Start by locating your main water line where it enters your home. This is generally a pipe that runs from the ground upward before branching sideways into the outside wall of your home and can be a point of weakness. If you have a backflow, which is the main shutoff for your irrigation valve in the ground, it is a good idea to insulate it. The backflow is the first thing that will be damaged in a heavy frost, which generally occurs every three years.

Simply wrap the water main pipes sticking out of the ground with pipe insulation, which you can purchase affordably at any home improvement store. If nothing else, wrap them with a couple layers of towels and secure them with tape. For additional protection, you can open your valve box and throw loose towels over the irrigation valves. By throwing some old rags into the valve box and closing the cover, you are adding another layer of protection against the cold.

The tips and guidelines above are general rules of thumb for getting your plants safely through the winter while saving you money on your water bill. If you’re not sure how much to water a particular plant or need help with your irrigation system, call Cherry Landscape at (520) 292-9776. We will be happy to get your irrigation system checked and set for the winter months ahead.