In dry winter, you may need to water trees, lawn

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we need moisture, all I have to do is write about techniques for water conservation.

In summer 2012, I provided suggestions for watering during drought. In the four days after the article appeared, the area received more than 1.3 inches of rain.

In 2010, I mused about the hot, dry June we were experiencing. Guess what happened? It rained more than 2 inches. Of course, this coincided with a family camping trip.

So, as I planned for this column, I realized that I should discuss winter watering.

Duh!

If I write about watering trees in winter, then I will then have a greater opportunity to call in sick with “powder fever.” Of course, I also will have to shovel the driveway and sidewalk. But to get an opportunity to make turns in 18 inches of fresh powder, it’s a no-brainer.

When the snow began to fall last week, you should know that I was thinking about writing this article. Maybe that’s all it takes. Perhaps, next September, I need to write about the lifelong struggle of being a Chicago Cubs fan.

Why water trees – and even shrubs, perennials and lawns – during the dead of winter? Don’t you know what a pain it is to drag hoses out of the shed?

Up until last week’s return of moisture, our area was stuck in a pattern of dry air, low precipitation, relatively warm days and cold nights. Couple this with little to no snow cover – especially on the southern and western facing slopes – and we began to see dry, crusting soils – in January.

A potential result of this long, dry period could be death to parts of the plant’s root system, 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, do not water.

Water 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.

Focus on the newly planted material (less than two to three years in the ground), and water once a month if the proper conditions exist.

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.

Direct the water underneath the ends of the branches (the drip line).

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).

It is our hope that winter watering is kept to a minimum, as many of us wish that we had adequate snowfall and coverage. But our plants’ root systems are absolutely critical, and knowing how much time and energy is put into planting that tree or shrub correctly in the landscape, I would hate to see it suffer, much like you and I do, during times of winter drought.

parmenterdm@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.