Winter watering can help keep landscapes, foundations in good shape
The 2012 drought has left many landscapes and foundations parched.
Mark Kuzila, UNL Extension soil scientist, said everyone saw soils, especially clay soils, get dry and cracked this summer. When soils get dry, they shrink; when soils get wet, they expand back.
This also happened around the foundations of homes.
Kuzila said there are a couple things people can do this winter.
No. 1, don't put more soil in that crack, he said. Instead, homeowners should slowly water the soil next to the foundation. A soaker hose is best.
"Never put more soil in that crack, leave it alone and gently water the soil or wait until it rains again," he said. "A slow rainfall or nice blanket of snow would melt gently and fill back up that crack."
However, a heavy downpour could allow water to hit the house, get through the cracks and come into the house.
"So the best case situation is to keep the foundation moist by putting a soaker house several feet away from the foundation," he said.
Homeowners also should make sure that directly next to the foundation and extending approximately 6 feet away, the soil surface should slope away at a rate of about 1 inch per foot. In addition, downspouts should discharge away from the house and be free and clear of debris. If gutters overflow, water can run down into the crack. It's also important that landscape edgers and other landscape materials are not blocking water from flowing away from the house.
Keeping trees and shrubs watered this winter also is important, said Kim Todd, UNL Extension landscape horticulture specialist.
"The soil moisture profile is so depleted, that we should continue to water throughout the winter months," Todd said. "If people have exposed soil in their landscape beds, the top surface has turned to dust, or if you poke a screwdriver into the soil, you'll discover it is really dry."
To keep trees and shrubs watered, Todd recommends turning on a soaker hose for a couple of hours when temperatures are above freezing--just remember to take it off when finished watering so it doesn't freeze. It's also important to move that hose to different places around the tree or shrubs.
"The roots extend far beyond the tree's canopy, so don't just water at the trunk," Todd said. "Also be sure to saturate the soil and not put on a huge blast of water that would run off."
Watering is critical to plants that are not well established and/or planted in last year to five years and where the soil is poor, such as in new construction sites.
Todd said many trees already have been lost because of the drought, especially ones that are on the edge of their hardiness zone or not planted in ideal growing conditions. She said white pines and arborvitae have really taken a hit.
Todd said Nebraskans and others should be prepared to continue watering trees and shrubs throughout the spring and summer if the state doesn't see significant moisture.