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Plants need water in cold, dry months

October is generally one of the driest months of the year. Actually, on average, November is the driest month of the year. Many think that when cold weather arrives, the need for irrigating is not necessary during fall and winter months. Landscape plants need water during dormancy as well as their growing season.

Those with newly seeded new lawns are faced with the dilemma of irrigating to prevent them from dying. Once the small seedlings emerge, it is very important to keep the sparsely rooted seedlings irrigated to maintain growth and allow root expansion.

Those that choose to reduce irrigation or stop altogether risk partial or total loss of their fall planting. It is a difficult choice for many, especially for those with weak wells or high water bills. Some newly seeded and established lawns are now showing signs of drought.

Valuable trees and shrubs also need water during the winter for survival. The county has received no appreciable rainfall, adding stress to both bedding plants and shrubs. It is important to note that plant roots continue to grow and develop during fall and winter months. Trees and shrubs must also be irrigated during fall and winter drought periods.

Trees and shrubs that are damaged by the drought usually do not show signs during dormancy as they do during the summer months. Many plants do not show damage until the spring. The extended drought may take out many large tree species, especially red oaks.

The best time to irrigate during cold, dry weather is during the heat of the day when the ground is not frozen. Even though supplying water may be a challenge during cold weather with stiff hoses and frozen nozzles, the task is still very important.

Dogwoods, rhododendron, azaleas, and camellias have shallow root systems, easily drying out in this type of weather. One to two inches of water during the week during an extended drought is a sufficient amount for established trees and shrubs. Newly planted shrubs may need more water. But remember, over-watering will kill trees and shrubs much quicker than a short drought.

Three to six inches of organic mulches such as bark or pine needles helps to conserves soil moisture in the landscape. With no appreciable rainfall in our future, now would be good time to add organic mulches. Also, consider installing a drip irrigation system for valuable plants next spring. Drip systems put water where it’s needed without waste. It’s a fairly inexpensive system that will pay for itself with water savings in one season.

Darrell Blackwelder is the county extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970, on Facebook or online at www.rowanextension.com

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