False spring means watering
February 6, 2018
What gorgeous weather we are having with beautiful sunny, warm days. Buds on trees are swelling, daffodils and other bulbs are poking up their heads. I suspect if this weather continues, soon even the grass could be greening. While we may enjoy these lovely days, if this warm dry weather continues, it will soon be time to drag out the hoses or turn on the sprinklers.
Trees and shrubs, particularly evergreen ones, lose water all winter, especially when the weather is warm and dry. If they were planted within the last year or two, all plants, whether evergreen or deciduous, are very susceptible to drought damage during a dry winter. If nature doesn't provide rain or snow to replenish plant needs, we have to do so or plants will have problems come spring.
I was weeding the other day. Early in the year like this, even weeding is pleasurable, because I love getting my fingers in the soil again. The soil is moist and loose after the recent snow. The point is, the ground isn't frozen. The temperatures on the days after I weeded broke records for this time of year. Soil moisture won't last long with these elevated temperatures. Unless we get enough precipitation to soak the ground deeply, we will need to irrigate.
What is the proper way to water? For trees or shrubs to stay healthy, the entire root area should be irrigated all the way around the plant. If it was newly planted this last year, this may be a relatively small area such as the size of the root ball on planting. That's an easy area to irrigate. However, for larger, established trees, roots can extend out from the trunk in all directions four times or more the tree's height. This could be a large area to water and difficult to do effectively in winter.
To keep a tree or shrub healthy, water all around it out to the dripline of the branches. If you bring out your hoses to do this, drain your hoses when through. For larger areas, you may want to turn on your irrigation system. This is problematic, because it means re-winterizing the system after watering. Tedious, but necessary, since we know there will be freezes from now to May.
We can all hope that Mother Nature will be kind, providing rain or snow in the next couple of weeks to save us the extra work!
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JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.