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Figure 1. Fescue lawns browning out with no irrigation in winter.

Many homeowners mistakenly believe that during the winter, they can just turn off the sprinkler system or not worry about irritation. While many plants have lost their vegetation, gone dormant, or are not growing, they are still alive, and need soil moisture in order to stay alive. And after a very wet December in Oklahoma, the faucet has been turned off again, and it’s very dry again, with less than 1″ of moisture during the first 7 weeks of 2016. So if you’ve not watered your turf and landscape, you really need to do so very soon.

Winter desiccation can occur on many plants, particular evergreen and shallow-rooted plants, when the leaves loose water during warm and windy winter days as we’ve experienced. If there is not enough soil moisture present to be absorbed by the root system to replace that lost moisture, the leaves may dry up and turn brown, leading to leaf damage and possibly death of the plant. Boxwoods, Pine, Azaleas, Laurel, and Hollies are just some of the plants in the landscape in Oklahoma that are more susceptible to winter desiccation injury. Even turf needs some soil moisture during the winter. Fescue will turn brown and look bad without good soil moisture. While bermudagrass is brown and dormant, the root system and crown are still somewhat active. A very dry soil will become much colder than a wet soil, and could lead to more winterkill of bermudagrass if we have a sudden spell of extreme cold temperatures, which is not out of question in Oklahoma.

We recommend a good soaking with irrigation about every week or two, without any help from Mother Nature. For plants, soak well in order to allow the water to soak deep into the soil. Turf not so much, as you are mainly concerned about keeping the top inch or two of soil moist in this case, which is different compared to the growing season.

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