Just because the thermometer is registering temperatures that keep you indoors, does not mean that the lawn should be completely neglected until spring. Even though a lawn is dormant in winter it is still a living thing that needs adequate water to survive and thrive and those beautiful broadleaf trees in your yard might not need as much water in winter, but they do still need enough to prevent winter drying. What about those evergreens that you cherish so much? They actually use more water in winter.
Georgia is not known for having snow on the ground in winter for long periods of time so we have to be alert to the needs of our green and growing environment in order to keep it in beautiful shape. If you are getting about an inch of rain water per week, you really may not need to do much extra watering during the winter, but , if not, then a little mid-day watering may be in order. Watering in the middle of the day when the temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit will allow the moisture to soak deep into the roots where it is needed before lower, possibly freezing, temperatures arrive during the night.
If we have a stretch of warm and windy days, then the humidity may drop and the trees and shrubs that are facing the wind are likely to be damaged by the rush of dry air and the lack of water.
How can you tell if you’ve had an inch of rain during the week? One way to keep from over or under watering is to position one or two tin cans around the property in fairly hidden places to catch the rain. You can mark the inside of the cans with one-inch masking tape around the bottom so you can look inside and see how much water has fallen. Another way is to buy an inexpensive rain gauge at your landscape store or on Amazon. They come in all price ranges from about five to seven dollars for a basic easy reading magnifying rain gauge to about forty dollars for a wireless rainfall gauge/weather station in your own back yard. Either way, it is an easy and inexpensive fix and will give you information you can use to keep your yard healthy all year round.
Since Georgia has a lot of clay in its soil, and lawns need deep watering that soaks into the roots at least six inches you may need to pay attention to runoff, too. If you can see that your lawn soaks up the water well you will not need to water more than twice in a week, but if you see runoff or pooling rather than soaking you may need to do short watering sessions no more than once a week. It is important that you do not over water, too.
Winter is a great time to transplant and /or prune overgrown shrubs and perennials. Do not winter prune your spring early bloomers, though, such as azaleas, because that may prevent the curtains and bowers of blossoms that are so loved in the spring.
Winter is an excellent time to apply pre-emergent weed killers because that will suppress and prevent fescue and winter weeds from prospering in warm-season grasses. Read the label and buy the right kind for your lawn. Winter is also a good time for mulching which keeps moisture in the roots of plants. The plants may look dead above ground but underneath they are alive and getting ready for spring. Winter watering is crucial to newly planted beauties, too. A time-lapse of more than two weeks without water can kill off new plantings before they get a chance to settle in.
Making sure your lawn and shrubs get the right amount of water in the winter is the best prep work you can do for your spring showcase of color.
Last winter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program pulled together a “panel of experts” to look at lawns, lawn care and the impact lawns have on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
The expert panel’s conclusion, based upon a review of all the science and research done on the topic, was that a “dense vegetative cover of turf grass” on a lawn reduces pollution and runoff. If your lawn is thin and sickly, pollution and runoff from a lawn increases dramatically. Download the report here.
In other words, the healthier a lawn, the better it is at controlling pollution that can affect water quality in streams and rivers, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
Connecting people to the natural world in urban settings requires turfgrass. Furthermore, turfgrass provides several vital ecosystem services, such as stormwater runoff collection, heat island effect mitigation, pollution and erosion control, and carbon sequestration. So, for those who say turfgrass serves no functional purpose—only an aesthetic one—they are wrong. However, those who say turfgrass can be managed more sustainably might be onto something.
Brian Horgan, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Turfgrass Management at the University of Minnesota. His research interests focus on the fate and transport of pesticides and nutrients, water conservation strategies, and low-input turfgrass systems. Horgan spoke on the topic of "Defining Sustainable Turfgrass Systems" at the fifth-annual Lawn Care Summit in Nashville on January 28.
"Demand for turfgrass will continue to increase," Horgan told the Lawn Care Summit audience. That is an inevitability, he said, due to population growth and urbanization. As that demand for turfgrass increases, though, products used to manage turfgrass—including mowing equipment, fertilizers and pesticides, and irrigation systems—will become less available. Something has to give.
"If the ecosystem services of turfgrass are not enhanced by management—i.e. mowing, fertilization and irrigation—then the value of turf in urban environments will be questioned," Horgan said. Therefore, the more efficient and sustainable management of turfgrass is becoming more and more important now, and will be critical in the future.
If your lawn consists of centipede or St. Augustine grass you may see signs of cold damage this spring. This winter's recent snow/ice storms and recent periods of single digit temperatures lasting over 60 hours is enough to cause loss especially in centipede and St. Augustine grasses. This is because these two varieties have no below ground rhizomes. They grow above the ground through stolons, or runners. A long period of cold freezes these runners, making recovery and regrowth difficult.
About once every ten years our area experiences an exceptionally cold winter. This was one of those years. If you have a lawn of centipede or St. Augustine you may want to turn the cold damage into an opportunity for change. This would be the year to consider converting your lawn to something more cold hardy like zoysiagrass.