JoAnne Skelly: Time to water?

I turned my sprinklers on this past week. So did my gardening neighbor Roni. Her comment was “Ugh!” Mine was “On. Off. Drain. Repeat.” Turning drip systems and sprinklers on and off is tedious, but necessary. We haven’t had enough rain or snow to thoroughly soak the ground. While the warm days are lovely, with no precipitation, the sunny weather is hard on trees. Since the nights are still cold, about 18 degrees at my house, every time I turn the water on, I have to drain everything before nightfall.

An inch of water every couple of weeks should suffice unless the temperatures climb into the high 60s or even 70s and stay there for a week. With spring just around the corner, plants are gearing up, trying to soak water in for the big spring bloom and leaf out. Starting out the growing season drought-stressed is definitely not good for plant health. So, either turn on your water systems, or drag hoses around to trees and shrubs, particularly roses, and give them a deep soaking. Don’t worry about lawns.

A deep soaking means watering all the way around the trunk of the plant out to the dripline to a minimum depth of 15 inches for trees and 10 inches to 12 inches for shrubs, depending on the size and age of the shrub. To test the depth of water penetration after watering, either use a long screwdriver, a piece of rebar or a soil probe about 24 hours after irrigating. You could also put a container out under the outermost spray of the sprinkler and irrigate until you get one inch of water in the container.

Of course, when you are done and before the nighttime temperatures drop, drain and blow out your drip system, open the drain valve on your sprinkler system or drain all your hoses and put them away. That’s the “Ugh” part.

Another timely chore is applying a pre-emergent herbicide to reduce spring and summer weeds. It’s not too late to apply a pre-emergent control for the seeds of puncturevine. For a pre-emergent to work, it must contact the soil and then be watered in or incorporated by raking, depending on the product. Not all products work for all weeds, so know the weeds you are trying to control and read product labels to identify which one will work on that weed. Some pre-emergents damage roses, flowers, shrubs and trees – READ THE LABEL.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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