Cold and Dry Landscape Update

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
After a remarkably mild start, it looks like we are going to have at least a few significant brushes with real cold this winter. While it is almost impossible to say how are landscape will be affected until spring green up, the consequences of two nights in mid-December with temperatures near zero are already evident with various levels of evergreen plant damage. More on that below.

Compounding the cold damage is another weather factor that has not gotten much attention just yet; Payne County is now in the severe drought category. While you don’t hear much about drought in the winter, it is still a very important consideration for all plant material. While plants don’t need as much water now as they do in the summer, an adequate supply is just as important.

If you have important landscape plants, it would be a good idea to give them a good thorough irrigation the next time temperatures warm well above freezing. This is especially true for new plantings (say less than 2 years or so), evergreens, plants that are only hardy to zone 7 or above, and cool season grasses like tall fescue.

In some cases the ground is going to be so dry that irrigation water may tend to run off rather than soak in. If this is the case with your landscape, water plants using the cycle/soak method. In other words, irrigate just to the point of runoff, wait a few hours to a day, and repeat. This promotes water movement much further into the root zone, providing greater benefit to the plants.

If you are not in the habit of irrigating in the winter time, don’t forget that we still have at least a couple more months of potential cold ahead of us, so take your necessary precautions for freeze protecting your hoses or irrigation system. If you happen to be a homeowner whose system must be drained in the winter, you can always just irrigate with a hose and sprinkler so you will avoid the hassle of a second winterization.

Plant damage does not necessarily mean the plants have died. It could simply be more leaf drop that normal (nandinas are a good example) or more bronzing of the leaves than normal (such as southern magnolias, boxwoods and hollies). Don’t panic just yet, these plants may recover just fine. Avoid the temptation to prune the damaged leaves off just yet as doing so can set the plant up for additional winter damage.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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