Do I need to water my trees, bushes and roses during the winter months? What's the best way to do this?

— Jenny

Winter watering is an extremely important aspect to good plant care in western Colorado. I've seen lots of plant damage and even death because a plant wasn't watered over the winter.

This surprises some people — the leaves are off the tree, and it's cold, so why should it need water? What they don't realize is drought can hurt a plant just as much in January as it can in July.

The answer to your question depends a bit on the types of plants you have in the yard, how long they've been there and what the weather's doing.

In short, we tell people to plan on winter watering newly planted trees and shrubs for the first year or two. This gives the plant a chance to root out and establish itself before leaving it to its own devices.

Plan on watering about once a month.

You will often have to tailor that schedule to what the weather is doing. If it is unseasonably warm and dry, you may want to water a little more often. If it's cold and wet or we have consistent snow cover, you can stretch out the schedule appropriately. Also, a tree that is on the south side of a building and gets full sun exposure will need more frequent watering than one in the shade where the soil doesn't dry as quickly.

Slowly wet a good sized area around the plant so the water has a chance to soak in before running off.

I like to screw on a plain little sprinkler to the end of the hose and turn it on enough to water a 10-foot or 20-foot diameter circle around the plant. Once it's set, I'll go inside and set the oven timer for an hour.

When the timer goes off, I'll move the sprinkler farther around the plant if it's big or just to the next plant and let it go for another hour. This allows the water to soak in and covers the entire root zone of the plant. It sure beats standing outside holding a hose.

As I mentioned before, doing this the first winter or two after a tree is planted is enough for most plants but there are a few that require attention for as long as you have them in the yard. Birch, Colorado spruce, redbud, maple and sycamore are fairly intolerant of drought and you should plan to water them once, twice or even three times through the winter. And that goes for even an old, established tree.

This is especially true for birch, Colorado spruce and redbud. I see winter drought damage on spruce almost every spring.

And even though I preach this sermon to folks all the time, I lost a 20-year-old paper birch tree in my own yard because I got complacent and neglected to water it some years back.

You'll want to water in the middle of the day when the air temperature is above 32 degrees. Do it early enough in the day so the water has a chance to soak in before nightfall.

Be sure to unhook your hose from the faucet and drain the hose when you're done.

When should I prune rose hips? Is it better for the rose to leave them on for the winter?

— Paula

Actually, I don't think it matters a bit to the plant when you prune them off or even if you prune them off at all.

I'd say most people leave them on through the winter. They lend a bit of color to the winter landscape. In fact, I was walking through one of our greenhouses marveling at how pretty some of the hips are on the shrub roses we're over wintering.

The hips also can provide food for birds and other critters through the winter, especially if they are smaller. 

Having said this, I like to prune them off when they form during the summer months (we call it deadheading). Doing this will extend bloom periods and hasten reblooming throughout the season.

I'm not that fussy about where I prune — to tell you the truth, I deadhead with hedge shears — just whacking the plant back to remove the hips.

I stop any pruning on roses, including deadheading, the first part of August. Cutting back any plant will stimulate new growth and I don't want to encourage any lush new growth in the fall since it can be damaged by early frosts.

If I want to remove the hips over the winter, I'll wait until things have started freezing up (usually late November to mid-December) before I resume any pruning.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506, or email info@bookcliffgardens.com.

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