New trees need water in winter
Last spring we planted a redbud tree in our front yard. Do we need to water it during dry winter months? At what temperature during the day should we water it, above 40 degrees?
Yes, you should plan on watering your redbud through the winter. Redbud is one of three trees (birch and spruce are the other two) that we see with lots of winter drought damage on a consistent basis.
It may be a bigger or smaller problem for your tree depending on your soil, the location of the tree, even the individual genetics of the tree, but I think it’s good insurance to plan on giving it a good soaking about once a month through the winter.
Our winters tend to be sunny and bright with little precipitation. With no snow cover and that bright winter sun beating down, the soil will dry, slowly, but it will dry out. This 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.
Watering your redbud once a month is a general guideline. You’ll 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.
Start your countdown when you stop watering in the fall. People often mistakenly think winter drought only happens during January and February, but most of drought damage I see is occurring earlier, in November. This past winter was a bit different however, because most of the drought damage (and it was substantial) occurred in February and March.
As I mentioned before, there are a handful of plants that I recommend people water during the winter for as long as they have that 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 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.
I had a beautiful paper birch tree in my front yard that was almost 20 years old. I damaged it several years ago because of not watering during the winter. I know better, but I got complacent and lazy. I convinced myself that the tree was old enough to stand on its own and, hey, it hadn’t been that dry.
Well, come spring, some of the tree had died back. And since the tree was under stress, bronze birch borer moved in, and though I treated it several times, I lost that beautiful tree.
For crying out loud, I KNOW BETTER! I give this advice to people all of the time and still I neglected to follow through.
There are different ways to water in the winter when we don’t have irrigation water. Taking buckets of water out to your plants will work on small, newly planted ones, but most people hook up their 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.
As to how I like 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 15–20-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.