This has been a very dry fall and winter for much of central Kansas. When soils are dry, watering in midwinter is important to help alleviate moisture stress on our landscape plants. Moisture stress can lead to winter injury or weaken plants.
Although all perennial plants will benefit from watering now, it is especially important for newly planted or overseeded lawns as well as newly transplanted trees and shrubs due to limited root systems. Even trees and shrubs planted within the last 2 to 3 years are more sensitive to drought than a well-established plant. Evergreens are also more at risk because moisture is lost from the foliage as winter winds blow.
Water 12 inches deep
Look for a couple of nice days when temperatures are well above freezing and the soil isn’t frozen to water. A good, deep watering with moisture reaching at least a foot down into the soil is much better than several light sprinklings that just wet the top portions of the soil. A deep watering will help ensure that the majority of roots have access to water. Regardless of the watering method used, soil should be wet at least 12 inches deep. Use a long screwdriver, metal rod, wooden dowel, electric fence post or something similar to check depth. Push the tool into the soil to check moisture depth. If the tool slides in easily to 12 inches then plenty of moisture is available. If the tool is difficult to push in and there is much resistance more watering will be needed.
Trees or shrubs planted within the last year can be watered inexpensively with a 5-gallon bucket. Simply drill a small hole (1/8″) in the side of the bucket near the bottom. Fill the bucket and let the water dribble out slowly next to the tree. Refill the bucket once or twice more, and you have applied 10-15 gallons. Very large transplanted trees and trees that were transplanted two to three years ago will require more water.
A perforated soaker hose is a good way to water a newly established bed or foundation plantings. However, soaker hoses are notorious for non-uniform watering which means you often receive too much water from one part of the hose and not enough from another. In order to solve this problem you can hook both the beginning and the end of the soaker hose to a Y-adapter which helps equalize the pressure which will provide a more uniform watering. The specific parts you need are shown in the photo and include the soaker hose, Y-adapter and female to female connector. It is also helpful if the Y-adapter has shut off valves so the volume of flow can be controlled. Too high a flow rate can allow water to run off rather than soak in.
On larger trees, the soaker hose can circle the trunk at a distance within the dripline of the tree but at least ½ the distance to the dripline. The dripline of the tree is outermost reach of the branches. On smaller trees, you may circle the tree several times so that only soil which has tree roots will be watered.
If using a soaker hose, note the time watering was started. Check frequently to determine the amount of time it takes for water to reach 12 inches. From then on, you can water “by the clock.” Use a kitchen oven timer so you remember to move the hose or shut off the faucet. If you are seeing surface runoff, reduce the flow, or build a berm with at least a 4-foot diameter around the base of the tree to allow the water to percolate down through the soil, instead of spreading out.
Fall planted or overseeded lawns can be watered with an overhead sprinkler. Watering to a depth of 12 inches with this method would be a challenge but try to reach at least 6 inches deep. Watering once a month if it remains day and warm should be adequate