Over the years, I’ve written articles that seem to initiate a response from Mother Nature that completely eliminates the need to do what I’m writing about.
So, in hopes of that happening again (yes, I may have looked at the weather forecast), I will sacrifice my article because this warm, dry spell is getting a bit ridiculous and ever more alarming. I am wearing shorts and it’s December, and during the past 60 days, we have received 0.3 inches of precipitation.
A potential result of this long, dry period could be death to parts of plants’ root systems, especially with newly planted or stressed plants. Woody plants typically have shallow root systems and require supplemental watering. Herbaceous perennials and ground-covers, especially those in exposed sites, can be subjected to cracking in soil that exposes roots to cold and drying. Even recently established lawns have a shallow root system and can quickly dry out.
If you plan on watering during the winter, follow these guidelines:
Water only when the air temperature is above 40 degrees with no snow cover.If the ground is frozen, don’t water.Apply during the heat of the day, typically between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. You want the water to soak in before possible freezing at night. Direct the water underneath the ends of the branches (drip line).Focus on the newly planted material (less than two to three years in the ground) and water once per month if the proper conditions exist. If you feel like you need to water large established trees, know that their roots can spread equal to or greater than the height of the tree. So apply the water within the drip line. Water to a depth of 12 inches, if possible. This may mean that you need to apply the water slowly, either using a soaker hose, sprinkler or spray wand. If possible, apply 10 gallons of water for every inch of the tree’s trunk diameter (measure this at 6 inches above the ground level).If you tend to forget when you watered, stick to the holidays (only if all the conditions discussed above are met): Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. I hope we get adequate snowfall and winter watering can be kept to a minimum. But our plants’ root systems are absolutely critical, and knowing how much time and energy goes into planting that tree or shrub correctly, I would hate to see it suffer, much like you and I do during times of winter drought.
As we go into winter with dry soils, know that woody plants can lose around 20 degrees of hardiness. For example, a tree that would normally go down to minus 20 (Hardiness Zone 5) could be damaged at 0. Hopefully, the rain that fell in September provided some longer-lasting soil moisture, but don’t bank on it.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at [email protected] or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter