Winter Watering Schedule
If you aren’t enjoying the Central Texas winter, wait a minute and it will change. It is no surprise if you live in Austin or the surrounding areas that you may be wearing a sweater one day and shorts the next. While it may be simple for you to add or remove an article of clothing, your plants aren’t so fortunate, so here are some general rules to get your plants through a typical Texas winter season.
For the most part, perennial evergreen and deciduous plants, lawns and trees are dormant during the winter months. This is a good time to reduce your watering schedule for new beds or to none at all for established beds, trees and lawns. If you are in a drought situation with no winter rains, you may want to run the system once a month. If you are getting a wet winter like we are this year definitely turn off your systems and roll your hose up until the spring.
If you are planting trees in the winter, you need to water them every day for the first two weeks or so providing there is no rain at all. check the soil around the tree’s root ball and if it is staying overly wet, cut back your watering to every other day for the first couple of weeks, then water once a week or so through the winter months allowing the tree time to dry between watering. If it is particularly windy and dry, they will need more water, if it is humid and overcast, they will need less. Obviously, larger trees will require more water than a small one. New trees should be staked with posts and tie downs and it is wise to use old cuttings of hose or rubber tubing to prevent damage from the tieback to the trunk and limbs of the tree. Keep these stakes and ties on your tree for the first two years then remove them to prevent girdling of the tree which can cause damage or kill it all together.
For established lawns, turn off your irrigation all together from fall to early spring. Lawns are dormant during this season and do not need more than a typical winter rain. If you have planted a new lawn the previous fall, you will need to water your lawn about once a month or so to keep the roots wet and growing over the dormant season so the lawn can hit the ground running (pun intended) when the spring warmth begins the growth season. A typical watering time will vary as the ideal depth is 1” at a time and that will vary from one irrigation system to another. I recommend you use a tuna cat or flat sided vessel to measure how long your system needs to run to get to one inch. If you have to run your system so long that water runs into the street, you need to set your system to run on two or more cycles at different times to give the lawn time to absorb the water before running off.
For newly planted fall perennial beds, I recommend a bi-monthly watering unless you have rain and the ground it sufficiently watered. Always allow plants, trees and lawns to dry between watering to prevent the roots from rotting in oversaturated soil. Particularly those with bad drainage from rocky and clay soils. Watering before a cold front or freeze can also help keep the ground warmer than the freezing air as water temperatures will not go below freezing. However, you do not want to cover the plants leaves in water before a freeze or you can do more damage to the plant by forming ice on the leaves and stems. If your beds are established with native and adapted plants, (more than a year or two old) you can turn the system off completely during the winter months. For your tender plants and young trees, I recommend a frost cloth you can purchase at a nursery, big box store or online. Cover the plants and stake the cloth into the ground and your plants will be protected from frost sitting on the leaves or stems while keeping the ground a couple of degrees warmer, which really can make a big difference. I also recommend wrapping the old school christmas lights (not LED) around your tender plants )Meyers Lemons,limes, oranges and such) to keep them a few degrees warmer.
It is really important to check your irrigation system often, but no less than every spring and fall to check for broken heads and sprayers that have gone astray. Spray heads are easily adjusted by using a small screwdriver to adjust the flow or to turn them off altogether if you have too much over spray in certain areas. Irrigation repairs are pretty easy even for a novice and can be found on YouTube including step by step repair, conversion and dripline modification instruction. However, DO NOT make adjustments to your “main” water valves or pressure at the street without a licensed professional as the City of Austin has HUGE fines for violators.
Every couple of years or so hire a professional irrigation specialist to check your entire system and be sure to set your system to a winter and summer schedule. In Austin, The wastewater water bills are calculated over the winter so if you are excessively watering over the winter months your wastewater bills will be higher all summer long. So being able to turn off your system by planting Central Texas native and adapted low water plants, then turning off your water all winter is a “win win” and the planet thanks you 🙂
Your plants and trees may get confused during long warm spells in the winter and sprout leaves, flowers or even fruit out of season. Not to worry, this is not their first rodeo. You can rest assured that Texas has seen its share of anomalies and if you choose plants for this area, they will recover, though you may lose those flowers and fruit in the next cold snap.
For a list of low water plants and trees, visit my facebook page at Lisa’s Landscape & Design for pictures of the plants, trees and edibles I recommend. You can also see many of my favorite plants on YouTube on my LL&D channel.
Lisa’s Landscape & Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”