Recent weather conditions have turned very dry for much of Kansas and many areas of the state are seeing a worsening of drought conditions. Now is a good time to evaluate the soil conditions around lawns, trees, and shrubs and irrigate if necessary, to reduce the chances of winter drying (desiccation) injury.
If conditions remain dry, watering will be critical to avoid plant winter damage or even winter kill. If a plant is so deficient in water that it does not have enough to supply next year’s buds with moisture, it is likely that plant will suffer significant damage over the winter.
Fescue lawns are still actively growing now and if the dry soil is robbing moisture from the turf roots themselves, the turf may be winter damaged unless some moisture is received in the near future. Check the moisture level in the soil. Lawns with new, fall seeded fescue turf will be the most susceptible to damage from extended periods in dry soil this winter.
Any plant that is not well established or under stress is in jeopardy during the winter without proper moisture. Concentrate watering efforts on young plants/trees, recent transplants, and all types of evergreens. Evergreens hold foliage all year round and can be especially prone to drying out. Plants that have been in place for longer than three-four years are usually well established. Recently transplanted plants go through a period of slowed growth called transplant shock that is usually proportional to their size. A seedling plant may be in a state of shock for only a week or two while a very large tree may experience transplant shock for years. Any fall planted trees, shrubs, or perennials should be checked now and monitored throughout the winter.
Also take into consideration the soil in which the plant is growing, Soil has a profound effect on how well your plants can handle drought periods. Typically, our home landscape soil is neither deep nor rich unless it has been amended. Often it is a thin and shallow soil that tends to dry quickly. Plants growing in your soil may show drought symptoms such as leaf wilting easily during the growing season, but these symptoms are not easy to see during fall as leaves begin to drop or change color. Check the soil by probing it with a rod or long flat-head screwdriver. It will be easy to shove the screwdriver to an 8 to 12-inch depth if soil moisture is adequate. If the screwdriver is difficult to push in and there is resistance, watering is likely needed. Remember the look of the soil surface can be deceiving, so actually checking is always best.
It is best to deliver water slowly to ensure the water soaks into the soil without running off. An ordinary garden hose set at a slow trickle can work well. Using a soaker hose or sprinkler can also work. If you see surface runoff soon after you start, stop and let the water soak in and then continue to apply water in intervals that avoid runoff until the soil is moistened. It is best to water to a depth of between 8 and 12 inches for most woody plants. Use the screwdriver to probe the soil and verify that it slides in easily to that depth after watering. After watering also take time to refresh or replace mulch around plants if needed to reduce the evaporation of water from the soil during the rest of the winter season.