Winter Watering Practices

Some people may think we don’t really have any lawn care issues to take care of in December. But, based on the email and Facebook questions I’m getting about lawn watering, I think it’s worth discussing the subject. Proper irrigation should not be ignored.

Here are two examples of recent questions:

“Hey Randy, with the weather cooling and days are shorter, that means the lawn no longer needs water, right?” Nick G. - The Woodlands
“Randy, what is your recommendation for watering the grass during the winter months?”Sara E. - Cypress

If you want your lawn to stay healthy and respond quickly at the first whiff of spring, you’ll need to heed my advice.

As I’ve said on the air before, there’s often no one-size-fits-all answer. But the answer to Nick is NO.

It’s important that watering continue throughout the winter to keep turf, trees, perennials and shrubs healthy, especially if Mother Nature isn’t doing anything to help. With a little bit of rain, you may not need to water as much, but roots will still continue to need moisture. Even dormant plants need water.

I’ll assume that you weren’t bone-headed enough to put out winter rye seed.If you want to keep that stuff green and thriving for the next three months, it’s going to require a lot of irrigation. And fertilizing. And mowing!

But if you are just letting your St. Augustine, Bermuda or zoysia grass go dormant (as you should), here are some basics you and Sara can live by this winter.

  • When temperatures are normal for this area, turf needs 1-1½ inches of water per week. In the winter months, though, it can survive on the same amount every 2-3 weeks.
  • Yes, Mother Nature’s winter rains can sometimes provide 1-1½ inches every 2-3 weeks.
  • Two or more months with no rain or irrigation can kill a lawn.
  • In the event of a freeze advisory, run your irrigation system a full day before it’s predicted to hit. That will fortify your plants, shrubs and flowers since it takes longer for well-watered plants to freeze. And be sure to protect your back-flow valve on the night of a freeze.
  • If you like to turn your system off ahead of freezing nights, remember to turn it back on for warmer periods, especially if it’s been more than two weeks since a significant rain.
  • Root systems are still very much alive, and they need moisture.
  • Too much moisture can instantly lead to brown patch if temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees.
  • This is a great time to have your irrigation checked for leaks and potential problems (I’d call Andy’s at 713-898-7055).

If you put these protocols in place and follow my fertilization schedule, your yard will bounce back with quick results as early as February.

By the way, I’ve also been asked many times if watering grass by hand is less expensive than having an irrigation system. Well, 23 years ago I was “hose-dragger,” but today’s smart sprinkler systems are more cost-effective than ever. Professionally designed irrigation systems use sensors that only allow watering when conditions require it, and studies have shown that proper irrigation can offer a water bill savings of around 15–20 percent every month, when compared to watering with a garden hose and an impact sprinkler.The rotating nozzles in professional irrigation systems spread heavy droplets of water at a slower pace, which makes them more targeted and effective. Moreover, irrigation systems are on timers - if you forget to move a hose because you're engrossed in a football game on TV, you’ll be wasting money and water.

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