How to Watch Out for Colorado Grasses and Trees in the Dry Winter Months
Water when temperatures are above freezing during the middle part of the day so there is time to absorb moisture before sunset. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Dry January may be good for your health, but dry January weather is not healthy for your landscape.
Your trees may need human intervention.
It may look like an inch or two of snow here and there is enough natural moisture for our landscape plants. We might conclude that it will snow soon, so we don’t have to worry about our plants. It’s winter, aren’t the plants dormant and not actively growing, so they don’t need any help from us?
The short answer is that plants need our help in the winter just as much as they need watering in the heat of the summer. Plants need water because they continue to use it during the winter, but in smaller amounts. If they are well hydrated, they will not only be able to survive the tough months and low water, but they will also head into the spring and summer stronger and healthier.
The only way to know if your landscape soil is wet is to actually examine the soil.
Find the longest screwdriver you have and drive it into the ground through the mulch and grass, especially in sunny south-, west- or southwest-facing areas. Check anywhere the soil does not freeze. If the screwdriver does not fall easily, it means that the ground and soil are dry. If you need to put in more effort to get it down, so does the area To the fullest extent dry. Your plants and plant roots need attention very soon.
Persistent and prolonged dry plant roots can lead to root damage, death, or decreased plant vigor. Above-ground foliage damage may not be apparent immediately, but along the way the stress caused by lack of water in the soil will be evident.
This month, pull out those hoses, sprinkler heads, soaker hoses or deep soil needle and get busy giving your landscape a big, long, deep drink.
Watering priority starts with the most expensive and not easily replaced plants in any landscape: trees (both deciduous and evergreen). Follow this by paying attention to shrubs and perennials and then the turfgrass. Plants and bulbs that were newly installed in the last spring, summer or fall are also important to water first.
Water when temperatures are above freezing during the middle part of the day so there is time to absorb moisture before sunset. Avoid windy days. Set up your hose and sprinkler to water around the drip line (outer branch tips) of the trees or near the trunk if the tree is new or young.
Make it easier by setting a timer and moving the sprinkler every 15 or 20 minutes. Circle back and repeat the same procedure (soak and cycle) if the area is very dry.
Soaking and cycling helps the water absorb downward, avoiding water waste and run-off.
When using a deep-rooted soil needle, plan to spend a good hour or more for each large tree. Less time may be needed for young and newly planted trees and shrubs. Stick the soil needle down no more than 8 to 10 inches (where most of the roots are) and let it work for five minutes or so in each spot. You’ll know when the stain is saturated because the water will bubble up and not soak in well. Move it every 5 feet around the tree.
A soaker hose works well too. Extend it around the tree’s drip line (or closer to new trees). Make sure the water pressure is low so that it drips down and not up and into the air. Leave it in place until the screwdriver falls out easily (check after each turn). It’s not easy to put soaker hoses around the tree when the hose is cold; You may need to use some landscaping staples to keep them in place.
- If it gets colder after watering your landscape, don’t worry: Water frozen in the soil won’t harm your plants’ roots.
- Lawns can be affected by a lack of winter moisture as well, especially in south- and west-facing sites.
- Disconnect all hoses after use, drain them and keep them handy for next time.
- Check your landscape soil often to make sure it is dry, and try not to set backs until your sprinkler system is turned on in the spring.
For more information, see this article about fall and winter watering at colostate.edu.
Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in the Rocky Mountain region. Visit her site at http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/ for more gardening tips.
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