Dry soil is a winter problem

This weekend marks the midpoint between three weeks of almost spring-like weather throughout much of Northern Nevada. This weekend could also be a critical time to water plants as warm temps and minimal precipitation has created dry soil conditions that can impact ongoing plant health.

Consider that it takes +/-10 inches of snowfall, depending on the moisture content, to equal 1 inch of moisture. Most winters, we do not receive the snowfall to give plants the moisture they need to sustain themselves.

Adding supplemental water during the winter keeps roots from drying out and that is one of the most important protective steps we can take in terms of winter plant care. And it’s not just about the winter. When we keep plants adequately watered during the dormant season, they enter the spring as healthier plants – ready to jump into their spring growth spurt. And that, in turn, makes plants better prepared for the hot days of summer.

In other words, winter watering pays off all year long.

About winter watering:

  • Anytime daytime temps are above freezing and the soil is not frozen, plants can be watered.
  • This weekend is prime time to check soil moisture around plants.
  • If soil is dry to about a 3-inch depth, then supplemental water is needed.
  • While daytime temps are still above freezing, assuming the soil in your area is not frozen, right now is a critical time to water trees, perennials and also turf.
Winter Drought Effect on Conifer

Evergreen trees are highly susceptible to winter drought

Even though lawns appear dormant, they still need supplemental water – especially the areas with a lot of sun exposure. Pay special attention to slopes and south or west facing areas. These areas will dry out first and when they are dry, they will also be very susceptible to mite damage. Fortunately, the best cure for turf mites is a good drink of water. Use a garden hose with the sprinkler attached and apply sufficient moisture so that the water soaks deeply into the soil.

Water trees with a deep root watering device attached to the hose so that water gets deep into the soil where roots live. Place the device into the soil at about 18 inch intervals around the tree. Move around the tree in a circle that corresponds to the area on the ground where the branches end. Use the same device to water shrubs.

This weekend, when you’re checking and watering your plants, remember that plant life is a cycle throughout all the seasons. Everything we do to maintain our plants now will pay it forward to have healthier plants down the road.

Why plants need TLC in the winter

This time of year, we think our landscapes are tucked away for their long winter’s nap. Yet this is the arid Northern Nevada climate we’re talking about and even leafless trees and dormant lawns will become very thirsty.

The norm for snowfall is 12-15″ per winter at lower elevations – and that equates to only about 1 inch of moisture.  That’s not enough water to keep plants from suffering winter drought stress.  And unfortunately, the effects often don’t show up until the heat of summer.

During the season of giving, the gift of moisture to your plants will not only be well received - but reward you later with stronger, healthier plant material.

A series of unfortunate events following winter drought stress can set up a deadly three strikes that can take plants out.  Drought stress that dehydrates roots, followed by freeze damage that is later followed by other stressors such as an insect infestation or summer heat stress, will often be more than plants can handle.

Winter watering, on the other hand, can keep plants healthy enough to move on and deal with the next stress factor more successfully.  Here are tips for winter watering and plant care.

Supplemental water during dry spells in the fall and winter is very important to bringing plants into the next growing season in good health. 

  • Warm days during fall and winter dry out plants and roots.
  • If you check the soil and it is dry down to about 3 inches deep, then you should apply supplemental water to the lawn, trees and other plants.
  • As long as daytime temps are above freezing and the soil is not frozen, plants can be watered.
  • It’s best to water trees with a deep root watering device attached to the hose so that water gets deeper into the soil where roots live.

Applying mulch around trees and other plants is also very beneficial.  

  • A good wood mulch (not rock) can conserve as much as 30% of moisture in the soil.
  • Mulch also helps insulate plants against severe cold and fluctuating temps.
  • Apply mulch no more than 4 inches deep as deeper mulch can start to sour and hold in too much moisture.
  • Also avoid placing mulch next to tree trunks and shrub stems as this too, can hold in too much moisture and cause the trunk or stems to rot.

Stressed lawns
Lawn areas exposed to winter sun will dry out faster, especially on a slope.  And these conditions also attract turf mites.  Applying moisture is the best deterrent to mites – and gives the thirsty lawn the moisture it needs in the process.

Run the hose with a sprinkler attached to water the lawn.  As in the summer, avoid the quick spritz and apply a good soak of moisture.

Need help with winter watering? Signature Landscapes can help with all your cold weather chores! Call (775) 857-4333 or schedule a visit online!

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Take these winter steps give hope for next year

The dry, hot summer has many lawns looking rough as we head into winter.

While it might seem easiest to throw in the towel, proclaim defeat and try again next spring, the best time to prepare your lawn to look its best next year is now.
Seeding, fertilizing and weeding in the fall help ensure healthy root development before winter hits — and let your yard thrive the following summer.

“Anything you can do in the fall will help that plant be healthier next year,” said Steve Fine, of Signature Landscapes. “You will get substantially more root development in your turf. If you wait until spring, you just won’t have time to develop that root system.”

Beginning in September, homeowners should:

  • Make sure your lawn is getting enough water. Most lawns need an inch to 11/2 inches of water each week. Place a rain gauge or straight-edged container, such as a tuna can or drinking glass, under your sprinkler to determine how long you need to water. When it has an inch to 11/2 inches of water, you know you’re done.
  • Apply fertilizer before the first frost. This will help provide your lawn with enough nutrients to survive the winter. “Fall fertilization is much more important than a spring fertilizer,” Fine said. “It can never catch up in the spring.”
  • Aerate your lawn. Aeration lets air, moisture and fertilizer travel to the roots more efficiently. “It should be aerated three or four times in different directions before you overseed,” said Tim Scott, Signature’s residential manager. “Our clay soil, which doesn’t have nearly enough air or water and doesn’t have the capacity to hold it. The key to (successful) seeding is having soil contact with the seed.”
  • Overseed your lawn when necessary. If your lawn has bare spots larger than a softball, seed those areas from early September through mid-October. Thin grass promotes weed growth. “It’s important to get seeding done in early September so that grass has plenty of time to germinate, develop a root system and establish before winter,” Scott said.
  • Kill the weeds. Apply a broadleaf weed killer in the fall to minimize weed growth in the spring. “October is a great time to get good weed control going into next year,” Fine said. “Weeds eliminated in the fall won’t come back in the spring.”
  • Continue to mow. Keep the blade at its highest setting and mow until around mid-November. Leaving the grass about 3 inches tall helps promote strong turf and reduces weed growth. Be sure to rake up leaves from your lawn quickly, so water and nutrients can penetrate the ground and reach the grass roots.

While many homeowners like to work in their yards, hiring a professional can help ensure good results. Many companies offer a free analysis of your lawn, and you can work together to come up with a plan that’s best for your situation.

“The biggest advantage with a professional is that they will have timely applications, using the correct products at the correct time and using the products correctly,” Fine said.

Get to the root of it – watering trees in winter

Watering your tree within entire root area

Watering your tree within entire root area. Click for larger image

These ecologists describe root activity as periodic, with maximum growth in early summer – especially in deciduous species – and pulses of additional growth occurring occasionally in early fall. And complicating things further, they indicate that not all roots grow at the same time. Even within a single tree, some roots may be active while others are not. However, by all accounts, tree roots in our region are thought to spend the winter in a condition of dormancy. This means they are not dead but rather they overwinter in a resting phase with essential life processes continuing at a minimal rate. Full-on root growth resumes in spring, shortly after soils become free of frost, usually sometime before bud break.

But unlike the aboveground parts of most trees that pass the winter in a prolonged dormancy – marked by unbroken inactivity until spring – tree roots seem to maintain a readiness to grow independent of the aboveground parts of the tree. That is, roots remain mostly inactive but can and do function and grow during winter months whenever soil temperatures are favorable, even if the air aboveground is brutally cold. While roots tend to freeze and die at soil temperatures below 20°F, minimum temperatures for root growth are thought to be between 32 and 41°F. So, if soil temperatures warm to or stay above this minimum, winter roots can break dormancy and become active.

Control and Prevention

The most effective way to reduce the possibility of root injury and disease is to keep the tree healthy and vigorous. A healthy root environment consists of adequate growing space for the root system, well-conditioned soil 16 inches to 24 inches deep, and sufficient water and oxygen. To check the water and soil condition of the root environment, dig a hole outside the dripline of the tree and determine if the soil is dry, wet or compacted. If you can’t get the shovel in the ground, the soil is dry. Soil moisture is adequate if the soil can be madeinto a ball with little pressure. Long, deep watering over the entire root system with time for the soil to dry between watering is better for trees than frequent light watering. Watering once a month during a long, dry winter also is helpful.

Avoid any practice that injures the roots. This includes: soil compaction, soil depth changes, mechanical injury, and improper watering and fertilization techniques. However, if these practices cannot be avoided, try to minimize damage.

Learn more about the health of your trees by calling a Signature ISA Arborist - (775) 857-4333 

To minimize soil compaction, remove compacted soil and replace it with noncompacted soil. Provide adequate drainage before planting. Use 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch (peat moss, wood chips, tree bark) around the base of a tree to improve soil aeration and water availability. Adding new mulch every three years or so will be needed as the mulch decays and improves the soil structure.

Avoid fertilization damage by applying nitrogen fertilizer to established trees immediately after spring leaf expansion, not in the late summer and fall.

 

 

Wonders of Winter Care – Tips and Tricks

Hello Northern Nevada! Winter is on our doorstep with snow coming soon. In the meantime, there’s still some nice weekends ahead to enjoy being outside while catching up on a few remaining landscape chores.

Snow on top of leaves is a mess

Wet leaves take time to dry out, become heavy and even slimy. It will save you time and trouble in the long run if your yard is covered (again!) with leaves, to deal with them before it snows. For leaves on the lawn, a smart move is to mulch them with a mulching lawn mower. The fragments left behind are good nutrition for the lawn.

In bed areas, you’ll also be ahead of the game by raking most of the leaves out. Work especially at cleaning out ground cover.

Storm damage is more likely to occur on trees that haven't yet dropped all their leaves. 

Tree care tips for when it snows

Storm damage is more likely to occur on trees that haven’t yet dropped all their leaves. The snow mounts on them, weighs down the branches and they can break. Many trees – particularly pear, crab apple and honeylocust – which still have a lot of leaves are in this susceptible category.

If you see snow accumulating and you can reach branches on smaller trees, use a broom handle to gently shake limbs so snow falls off. Start on the lowest branches. Otherwise, snow falling from higher onto lower branches just adds to their snow load that leads to breakage.

Don’t forget evergreens. Even though they stand tall winter after winter, in very heavy snows, their branches can also break. Keep an eye on them during heavy snows and shake their branches as well.

It's always best to have broken, ripped limbs pruned back with a clean cut.

Prune to prevent more storm damage and decay

High winds have already broken limbs in many areas this fall.  It’s always best to have broken, ripped limbs pruned back with a clean cut. Otherwise, torn limbs can invite pests and disease. This is one time when having an arborist, who really knows trees, do the work pays off for the long term.

Also be aware of “hangers” – limbs that may be damaged but are still “hanging by a thread.” They could fall at any time to damage property or injure people. Look up and play it safe.

What not to prune

Shrubs that flower early in the spring have already set the buds that will become pretty flowers. Avoid pruning lilac, dogwood, forsythia, viburnum and spirea in the fall as you will see fewer flowers next spring.

Remember the sprinkler system
If you have not yet winterized the sprinkler system, don’t delay. Freezing temps are ahead! Our guys can help you out in a pinch. Call Julie at (775) 827-5296 for a technician to drop by and take care of your system.

Winter Lawn Care Tips

As you know, lawns in Northern Nevada go dormant for the winter. Here are a few tips on what you can do to prepare:

  • Get the lawn as clean as possible. Excess leaves and debris can cause long term problems including disease and smoothing of grass. A heavy covering of leaves does not protect your lawn. Instead, once it snows those leaves trap moisture and prevent the lawn from being able to breathe.
  • Do not change the last few lawn mowing levels, and keep mowing until the grass is no longer growing. Leaving the grass too long over the winter can cause the same kind of problems as leaves on the lawn.
  • Heavy traffic should be kept to a minimum as much as possible. The wear and tear on dormant grass from heavy traffic can cause long term damage, and may prevent those areas from greening up in the spring
  • Winter weather in the Truckee Meadows can be very unpredictable. If we have heavy snow fall, ice can develop under the snow causing diseases such as snow mold.  If this happens, allow these areas to breath by changing traffic patterns over the snow packed area.
  • Salts and other ice melting agents can do serious damage to grass. You should only use ice melting materials when needed.
  • Mites are a grave threat to lawns even when parts of the lawn are covered in snow. South and west facing areas are often times free and clear of snow even as the rest of the lawn is covered in snow. These are the areas mites hit. A combination of winter watering and winter mite sprays can prevent costly damage which becomes visible when it warms up in spring.
  • Finally, voles can cause damage to lawns under snow. ‘Trails’ in the lawn that lead back to a common point are a sure sign of vole activity. For vole or mite control please contact Signature Landscapes pest control team. We have affordable options to protect valuable landscapes during the winter

Snow Mold in Northern Nevada Lawns

What is snow mold?

Snow mold is a fungal disease that appears in the early spring as the snow melts. There are two types of snow mold. Grey snow mold (also known as Typhula blight) and pink snow mold (sometimes referred to as Fusarium patch). Pink snow mold infects the crown of the plant and can cause more severe injury than gray snow mold which only infects the leaf tissue.

To minimize the risk of snow mold occurring on the lawn it is important to "put the lawn to bed" properly.

What does it look like?

Snow mold damage looks like circular patches (3″-12″) of dead and matted grass. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, the circles can coalesce and become a large mass. It is not uncommon to find both gray and pink snow mold together.

Pink snow mold is distinguished by the pink color of the web-like mycelium growing on the grass surface. While the grass is wet, the mycelium starts out white and resembles cobwebs, as it matures it turns its pink or salmon color. The mycelium quickly disappears as the grass dries.

Gray snow mold is similar to pink snow mold except that its mycelium remains whitish-gray. Gray snow mold is also distinguished by the presence of tiny black mycelial masses (sclerotia) on the grass blades and leaf sheaths of infected plants which pink snow mold does not produce.

What causes snow mold?

Snow mold is caused when there is an extended period of snow cover on ground that is not completely frozen. It can also be brought on by a badly timed fertilizer application which causes a flush of growth too late in the fall. Snow mold can also occur under leaves that have not been cleaned up or amongst long grass that should have been mowed once more before winter set in.

How is snow mold prevented?

Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilizers in the fall, mow the lawn until it stops growing, clean up leaves in the fall, manage thatch to avoid accumulations of more than 2″

How do I repair snow mold damage?

Fungicides are available for both preventive and curative treatments of snow mold. However, they are not recommended due to the largely superficial and temporary damage snow mold inflicts on the lawn.

Although it can look really nasty in the early spring, most snow mold damage will recover in time. Once the area has dried, the infection will cease and the turf will grow out and renew itself. To speed up the process, the infected area can be lightly raked to encourage drying. Some overseeding may be necessary and if the damage is extremely severe, topdressing can be applied and areas can be repaired like a bare patch.

 

Article produced by Kelly Burke at About.com