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Posts Tagged ‘Water’

 When you pick up a perennial this spring, check the tag to see where it was grown.  If it came from Oregon, chances are it was watched over by Jeff Stoven, who’s keeping a watchful eye on his charges during a cold snap that has tender plants at risk of freezing their buds off.

As the Head Grower for Bailey Nurseries in Yamhill, Stoven is responsible for over 100,000 potted plants.  As temperatures plunged to 18 degrees at the end of February, he sprang into action to keep the quarter-million dollar crop protected, not with row covers or tarps.  Instead, the blanket he swaddled them in was a coating of ice.

“Because our spring was so early and warm in February, the plants started to grow,” he said, “and now we’re at a critical time because it got really cold and we have to protect the new growth.”

Using ice to protect citrus crops in Florida and Georgia is common practice, but many don’t realize that the technique is widely used in the nursery industry as well.  As water changes to ice, heat is released and protects the plant from cold.  The trick is to keep the conversion of water to ice going for as long as you have cold temperatures.

“We come in just before the freezing temperatures and turn on the sprinklers a little at a time,” Stoven said.  “We get them a little wet, and ice forms around stems and buds.  We’ll continue to the water on and off for the next few hours, but we don’t want to overdo the amount of water, because we don’t want a huge glob of ice to form.”

Other techniques for plant protection vary, including lighting fires and moving the warm air with fans, or flying a helicopter low and slow over the field to move the air, but Stoven sticks to the proven method of icing in the plants.  You’ll see the results this spring in the garden centers.

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With apologies to Frank Loesser, his song, Baby It’s Cold Outside, has been running through my head with a few changes:

We really can’t sleigh (baby it’s dry outside)

The warmth’s got to go away  (baby it’s dry outside)

This winter we’ve been (hoping that snow’d drop in)

Not very nice (I’ll warm up the hose, it’s stopped up with ice)

Trees aren’t the only thing that need water in a dry winter – and boy, is it dry.  The federal Climate Prediction Center has said most of the Front Range and all of eastern Colorado is in a moderate drought.  We’ve gotten just a whisper of water since July, so monthly watering of your landscape is a must. 

In a previous post, how to water your trees was described, but lawns, too, need a drink.  “Established lawns will benefit from watering, but the critical ones that need moisture are the ones that are new,” says Dr. Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist with Colorado State University Extension.  If you put down sod after September 15, you should water it. 

Even if you don’t have a new lawn, watering the grass is important, and if you’ve been plagued by lawn mite problems in the past, water that yard soon, he said.  “This is when mite populations start to rise, especially on warm days when they get a little active and frisky.  They’re frisking around, the population starts to rise, and though mites haven’t started to damage the lawn, their potential to do so increases with their numbers.”  Mites prefer bone-dry grass, so hold them at bay with moisture. 

To water a lawn in winter, warm days with temperatures above 45-degrees is a must.  Fortunately we have plenty to choose from, since we’re in the 50’s and 60’s several days per week.

Drag out your hose with a sprinkler, or set the water to a slow trickle.  “The problem is that everything is frozen, but you don’t want water puddling on the lawn.  And the worst thing is forming a layer of ice on it; that really harms the turf.  So it probably won’t take more than a quarter to half-inch of water before you get standing water and puddles.”

Set your timers to tell you when to move the hose or shut off the water.  Most importantly, disconnect the hose from the house before evening so you don’t run the risk of frozen pipes.

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Weather experts are predicting a mild winter this year, with above average temperatures and less snowfall.  Though “warmer” doesn’t mean it’s time to plan a luau for Christmas, scant snowfall and sunny days put your trees at risk from sunburn and dehydration.

So as you string your holiday lights, unpack your soaker hoses and break out the tree wrap, it’s time to get your plants ready for winter sunshine.  The secret to keeping trees healthy throughout the year lies in giving them moisture during the dormant season, and protect them from sunscald.       

What: Sun hitting trunks of young, thin barked trees warms the bark and cells underneath, causing them to lose their cold protection. As nighttime temperatures plunge, these cells freeze and burst, resulting in sunscald, an area that will be prone to disease in summer.

How:  Protect them for the first two to three years they’re in your landscape by wrapping them with tree wrap. Wrap from the ground upward, overlapping each layer over the lower one by one-half-inch until you reach the lowest branch. Use tape to hold the wrap in place, making sure the tape doesn’t stick to the trunk.  Mark your calendar to remove the wrap around April 15. 

Dragging wet hoses and getting sprayed with water can put a damper on anyone’s holiday mood, but with a little planning, winter watering can be a snap.

When:  Water once per month through March if we don’t have much snow or rain.  The lingering fall is keeping soil soft, letting rain soak in, but once temperatures get colder and the ground freezes, giving the trees a drink means watching the weather. 

Measure the snowfall at your house with a ruler to figure your plants’ watering needs. Write each storm’s accumulation on your calendar and add it up every four weeks.  Anything less than 12 inches of snow, total, means it’s time to water. 

How:  Pick a day when temperatures are above 40 and there’s no snow on the ground.  On frozen ground, water should be applied slowly, so spiral a soaker hose under the tree or use soft spray nozzle if watering by hand.  Have a timer on the faucet automatically shut off soaker hoses or plan on setting timers in the house to remind you to turn off water.

Tip:  Always disconnect hoses from faucets immediately after watering to prevent frozen pipes.  Plan to water at a time when you will be home to monitor temperatures, and water during the warmest part of the day.

Where:  Water around the dripline of the tree – the area that falls under the outer tips of the branches.   Soak the ground two to three feet on either side of the dripline, to a depth of 12 inches.  If using a soil needle, insert it no more than eight inches deep.  The roots that take up water are in the top 12 inches of the soil.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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Cast your mind back in the not-so-distant past, to early October last year.  The days were warm, the nights crisp, and frost nipped at gardens but the season was not yet at an end.  Lulled by temperatures swinging from 21F to 88F, gardeners delayed the chores of putting the landscape to bed for winter. 

Frozen backflow preventer - photo courtesy of ALCC.

Suddenly, the weather threw us a curve ball, plummeting temperatures to a chill 16 degrees on October 10.  Plants froze, and so did sprinkler systems.  Some were lucky, escaping harm to their pipes.  Others didn’t see the damage until spring, when they started up their systems to water yards.

 That’s when gushers erupted from backflow prevention valves (the brass valve on the outside of homes), cracked by water turning to ice in the sudden freeze.  Calls to sprinkler companies skyrocketed, and homeowners shelled out $300 to $400 for repairs.  Vows were made to never let this happen again.

But Mother Nature is having hot flashes, and our landscapes still need water.  The resulting seesaw between day and nighttime temperatures are a roulette game for irrigation damage.  But you can keep your system safe with a few tips from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado .

– Wrap your backflow preventer for as long as you want to keep your system operational.  Water in the preventer can freeze during cold snaps, so if you haven’t winterized your system when temperatures are due to dip, swaddle the backflow device with building insulation or towels, three to four inches thick, wrapping pipes all the way to the ground.  Cover it all with plastic, then secure it with duct tape.

– Once you decide to put the landscape to bed, winterize the system by shutting off the water and draining the lines.  Most systems in Colorado are designs that require blowout, but a few have manual or auto drains to remove water.  Should you have one of these, consider blowing out the system anyway, since lines settle over time and low spots often develop that hold water.

– Have your system blown out with an air compressor. Even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer for most tasks, blowing out a sprinkler system should be left to the pros.  A quick internet search for instructions on how to do this resulted in so many warnings shouted in bold, uppercase letters that it should be taken seriously.  According to the Hunter Industries website, using an air compressor to blow out lines can result in flying debris, although they don’t say if it’s from sprinkler heads shooting up like rockets out of the lawn.  The caution not to stand over the heads while they’re under pressure is an important safety tip.

To ensure your system is undamaged during blow out, look for a company with professionals certified by ALCC.  These Landscape Industry Certified Technicians must complete over 2000 hours of practical experience and 10 hours of testing in order to meet the standards of best practices the certification requires.   

Make your appointment soon, since October is a busy month for companies that offer winterization service.  Expect the blow out to cost $50 to $100, but it can save you higher costs come spring.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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