In areas of the country that don’t get snow, watering turf in late fall and throughout the winter can be tricky. Usually when water is applied, we see a growth response or a greening effect. That’s not the case for turf in the late fall or winter that looks like it has stopped growing for the season. So, if the turf isn’t growing much, does it still need to be watered? The answer is yes.
Although the grass may be off-color and looks like it has shut down for the winter, it is still growing (very, very slowly but still growing) and needs water to avoid tissue desiccation. The cold, dry and often windy weather during the winter can rapidly dehydrate soil and plant tissue, causing damage that is often not visible until spring.
Here are four tips for winter water management:
- Check soil moisture regularly – Checking the soil frequently with a soil probe or a portable moisture meter will provide a good gauge of soil moisture and if irrigation is needed. A soil moisture percentage of 10% or 15% on the portable moisture meter is a good target. The goal is to keep the soil evenly moist – not wet.
- Water in the mid-afternoon – If freezing temperatures are expected overnight and water needs to be applied, it is best to irrigate during the warmest part of the day so that the water can sink in and hydrate the soil. Watering at night runs the risk of creating a sheet of ice across the turf.
- Use wetting agents during the winter too – Many think that surfactants and wetting agents are only necessary during the summer when water demand is high. Research at the University of Arkansas has shown that a late fall/ early winter application of soil wetting agent helps to prevent dehydration injury and enhances winter turf survival. The article Wetting Agents for Winter Turf Protection by GCMOnline.com provides further details on this topic.
- Be vigilant during windy weather – Wind has a tremendous drying effect on turf and the underlying soil. Be sure to check soil moisture more frequently during windy weather to avoid widespread turf desiccation.
If there are any questions about turf water management during the winter season, please email me here.