Homegrown: Dry winter? Trees may need water

I have read that one should water trees in the winter. In Rangely, it is very dry and we have had about zero snow this winter at present time. I have trees located on the north side of my house that cannot be easily watered as the ground is frozen around them, and I was wondering how the trees will do without being watered. I have to water all these trees by hand from the kitchen sink as I put up the outside water hose.

How many times during winter months do I need to water trees?

— Phyllis

You’ve asked a very good question. Lack of water over the winter is probably the most common cause for the damage or loss of newly planted trees and shrubs.

This often surprises people because it’s reasonable to think that we shouldn’t have to worry about watering our plants now.

In reality, although the plant might be dormant, it hasn’t ceased all metabolic activity. Its metabolism is greatly slowed, but the plant is still percolating along and needs water.

Our winters do tend to be sunny and bright with little precipitation. With no snow cover and that bright winter sun beating down on the soil, it will slowly dry out. This effect is more pronounced in sunny areas than in shady ones.

Our general recommendation is to water newly planted trees and shrubs the first winter or two. Once they’re established, they usually do fine on their own.

You should plan on watering them once a month, however, you may need to modify it depending on the weather. If it’s unusually warm and dry, the plants might need water every two or three weeks. If we get some moisture or some persistent snow cover, you won’t need to water but once every six or eight weeks depending on how long the moisture lasts.

There are a handful of plants that I recommend people monitor during the winter for as long as you have the plant. These plants are especially prone to winter drought damage and depend on you to provide the water they need. Birch, spruce and redbud are especially fussy about winter watering with trees commonly emerging in the spring damaged by winter drought. You have to plan on watering these plants through the winter to be sure to avoid problems.

Maples and sycamore are less touchy but would benefit from an occasional watering.

Taking buckets of water out to your plants will work on those that are small and newly planted. You might want to consider hooking up your hose to make the job easier. Just make sure that you disconnect the hose from the faucet when you’re done so it won’t freeze and be sure to drain the hose so it won’t freeze solid with ice which makes it tough to use the next time you want to water.

I use a little round sprinkler on the end of my hose to water my plants. I set it out at the base of the plant and turn it part of the way up so that the sprinkler covers a 10- or 15-foot diameter circle.

I’ll go inside and set the oven timer for one hour. When the timer goes off, I’ll move it to another tree or to the other side of the first one if it’s big enough. This is an easy way to give them a good soaking without freezing your fingers off.

I always water when the air temperature is above freezing which is pretty common here during the winter. I’ll try to water early enough in the day so that the water has a chance to soak in before nightfall.

Even though the ground is frozen, the water will soak in if you apply it slowly enough.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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