If you value your landscape, listen up! It’s time to grab the buckets and hoses!
You’ve heard me talk about the importance of winter watering. But if you’ve tuned out those warnings before, I’d urge you to listen now!
In the past week alone, the warm and windy weather has prompted at least two red flag warnings along the Front Range. That’s troubling for anyone concerned about wildfire, but it’s also an indication that our plants may be suffering.
We never got the August monsoons that are so essential for easing our plants into a healthy dormancy. For the past few months, our temperatures have been above normal. We just wrapped up the warmest November ever recorded in Denver. All the while, measurable moisture has been next-to-nothing. According to the Denver Water Board, our landscapes are losing about one-third of an inch of moisture every week. Without help from us, that deficit may just get worse. All of that is a big deal!
Whether you prefer hauling buckets or dragging hoses, we need to be watering out plants now! Without our help or more cooperation from Mother Nature, our plants will begin winter seriously stressed. Like people, plants that are stressed will struggle with challenges that might otherwise be fairly manageable. For a plant, that means bitter cold temperatures in mid-winter, drying winds, and prolonged dry spells could be seriously damaging… even deadly.
The good news: We can help!
If you value your landscape…. trees, shrubs, perennials…. even your lawn… it’s time to take action!
Until consistent colder temperatures come to stay, or we start to get significant moisture, we need to step in for Mother Nature. Fortunately, Tagawa Gardens has lots of ways to make that job easier.
As we wait for Old Man Winter to ramp up, decide which plants need your help the most. One good place to start is with the plants that are the newest…. the ones you put in during the past year or two. Focus especially on younger trees, shrubs, and perennials. They’ll have the least-developed root systems. Their roots haven’t spread enough to absorb modest amounts of natural moisture.
Plants, including lawns that have south- and south-west facing exposures are also especially vulnerable. A plant that appears to be dormant above ground still has a root system that’s working over the winter to support that plant. We just don’t see it because that work is going on below ground.
So where should your winter watering program begin?
Start with Tagawa’s winter watering video featuring Mike Landers, one of our tree and shrub experts and a certified arborist.
Every garden should have a “frog eye”
Even if you haven’t heard the name, you’ll recognize a twin circle or “frog eye” sprinkler when you see one. It’s an old-fashioned, very basic watering tool. Tagawa’s has other similar sprinklers that are specifically designed with round, square and rectangular spray patterns. They are equally effective for winter watering.
Frog eyes and other small sprinklers are especially well designed for delivering a big drink of water to a small area, like right over the root system of a young tree. Set the sprinkler so its spray pattern is concentrated over the root ball… the roots the young tree or plant came with.
How much water is enough? It depends.
Set out a shallow can to measure how much water your hose and sprinkler are delivering. The amounts will vary depending on available water pressure and the particular sprinkler you’re using. Once you know how much water set-up is providing, leave the sprinkler on long enough to give that root system a full inch of moisture. Continue with your watering regimen at least every month until the ground freezes.
Soil needles can be valuable tools, too. Tagawa Gardens carries Ross Root Feeders, the familiar yellow soil probes that can deliver a lot of water to very specific areas, like right next to a young root system.
Our goal is still an inch of moisture over the entire root zone. I measure that by turning the hose on full, then holding the tip of the soil needle in a bucket so I can determine how many seconds it takes to deliver an inch of moisture.
The soil needle should be inserted a few inches into the soil, next to the roots of young trees and plants. With somewhat older trees, apply the water in a zig-zag pattern at two-foot intervals around the “drip line.” That’s the outermost point of the lowest branches. That should put the water right over the plant’s feeder roots where it needs to be.
Just a reminder: more mature trees do not have feeder roots at the base of their trunk, so there’s no point watering there.
And one more tip: when I’m winter watering, I always use a small on/off valve at the end of the hose, between the hose fitting and the sprinkler. It saves a lot of back-and-forth to adjust the water volume when I’m moving to different areas of my yard.
It should go without saying that you’ll want to drain the hose and disconnect it from the wall bib after each use.
And down the road….?
Once consistent winter weather actually arrives (assuming it does…), you may still need to water your youngest and most valuable trees and plants every four to six weeks if we’ve gone a full month without significant moisture.
What do I mean by “significant?” Here’s a clue. On average, a foot of snow will deliver about an inch of moisture. Obviously, our heavy spring snows will deliver more. But even a foot of the Colorado “powder” that skiers love may be too dry to much more than an inch of moisture. So don’t assume that ankle-deep powder is going to give your plants the mid-winter drink they need. And just a few inches of powder in storms several days apart may not help much at all.
One of the first lessons I learned as a Colorado Master Gardener volunteer way back when has stuck with me to this day.
When I would answer the phone on the Master Gardener helpline in late June or July, when the heat of summer had set in, the single most common question was “What’s wrong with my tree? It started out the growing season just fine, but now it’s crashing!”
When I asked the caller how often they had winter watered, the answer was usually “How often did I winter what?”
Frequently, the homeowner hadn’t winter watered at all. The tree had come into spring on stored up energy. Trees are tough that way. But once the temperatures started to climb and the tree’s root system needed to really kick in and deliver lots of moisture, the tree began to fail. Too much of the root system had dried out and died the previous winter. The fine feeder roots were gone and the damage was done.
Don’t let that happen to you! A bit of hose-dragging and bucket-hauling on sunny winter days, when the ground is warm enough to absorb the water, can make all the difference. Given the emotional and financial investment we have in our landscapes, it seems a small price to pay.