Temperatures in north Georgia have already dipped below freezing several times. This winter is predicted to have extended periods of freezing weather throughout the state. While the kids are hoping for winter snow days, winterizing our landscapes becomes a homeowner’s priority.
Freezing temperatures can cause the water in an exposed pipe to expand. If the water expands too much, the pipe bursts. That’s simple physics. With home irrigation systems, you probably wouldn’t know you had any pipe damage until you turned it on for the first spring watering. Even if it functions adequately, a leak could have sprung, sending your water bill sky high.
Most in-ground sprinkler pipes will be OK, because only the top two inches of the ground freeze in most of Georgia. Pipes should be well below this level. Other irrigation components, like backflow prevention valves, are at ground level and could be in danger.
If there are any exposed valves or pipes around your home, tape them up or use a good old burlap sack to wrap them. Home-improvement stores have many tapes, foams and gadgets to keep these pipes warm on cold, winter nights. The tips of sprinkler heads can hold water. When frozen, they can rupture. The whole sprinkler system holds water, too, even when it isn’t being used, like in the winter. Don’t forget to drain the system. If you don’t drain it properly in the winter, your sprinkler could be a geyser when you turn it on next spring.
Arrangements should have been made in the installation process to have a way to drain those lines that would hold water through a buried valve in a pit. If you’ve bought a home with an installed irrigation system, find this drain valve. Some systems are equipped with automatic drain valves.
And don’t forget about your outside water hoses. You can do two things:
n Leave the hoses hanging outside. But disconnect them from faucets.
n Or better, disconnect, drain and store hoses someplace with a constant temperature. This will prolong the life of hoses.
If you leave hoses undrained outside in the winter, don’t move them or touch them in freezing weather. You could be the one to break them. Frozen hoses are fragile.
Private water users and rural residents with wells should check out their main water pump. There is usually a quarter-inch pipe connected to the pressure switch. If it’s metal, it likely won’t freeze. But if it’s plastic, it might freeze and burst. This could cause the water pump to fail or continue to run and cause some major winter repairs.
If all these precautions fail and a pipe bursts, there’s still one thing to remember. Know where your main water cutoff is.
Winterize your plants, too. Spread a 3-5 inch layer of mulch beneath all plantings. Be careful not to lay the mulch directly against the plant stems or trunks because the mulch will hold moisture and invite fungal diseases. Keep the mulch 12-18 inches away from your house foundation. The mulch can act like a warm, protective blanket through which invaders like insects or rodents can wiggle safely into your dry, temperature-controlled home.
Tender perennial bulbs like caladiums can be lifted out of the soil and held in your garage for spring planting. Another option, although a bit risky, is to water them well, then cover them with a thick pile of mulch. However, there is a slight risk of losing them during a severe winter.
Don’t forget to keep feeding our feathered friends. A long, cold season makes life more difficult for them, too. They rely on bird seed, but even more important is fresh water. It won’t be long before they are looking for nesting sites and the daffodils are poking their first green shoots up through the warming soil.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.