Anyone in Colorado who works with trees is already worried about them being unduly stressed from the long, hot summer. Their next worry is what a dry winter might do to make matters worse.
We hope for a lot of snow this winter, but horticulturists and landscape pros all agree that this year, fall and winter watering will be critical for long-term tree health - and it's not too soon to get started.
Deciduous trees, evergreen trees and shrubs all will need regular attention. They likely will need thorough watering on a monthly basis when the ground is not frozen and months there has been little or no precipitation.
Once the sprinkler system is turned off, it will take a little effort to keep trees and shrubs watered. The good news is that there are some easy and inexpensive ways to get the job done.
Use a soaker hose. Most hoses sell for less than $15. The best type is one that "weeps" or "seeps" water, rather than spraying it. Hoses typically come in 10-foot, 25-foot and 50-foot lengths, so match the length to the area you need to water. Because they attach to an outdoor faucet, they can be used whenever you need to apply water. Remember to detach them from the faucet afterward to keep pipes from freezing.
These hoses can be buried 3 to 6 inches deep in the soil - or you can simply spread mulch over them. This protects them from sun and other damage from the elements.
How long do you water? If you have a mature shade tree, run a 50-foot hose around the drip line of the tree. (The drip line is where rain falls off the tree's canopy at its outermost edge.) For a hose that emits 1 gallon of water per foot per hour, you should water one to two hours, depending on how dry the soil is.
Buckets with holes make another inexpensive and easy-to-use watering device. Make sure that buckets you re-use did not contain materials whose residue could be harmful to plants. Drill three or four holes in the bottom of each bucket. For a newly planted tree, set the buckets over the root ball. For more mature trees, place buckets around the drip line of the tree spaced a few feet apart.
Once the buckets are in place, simply fill them with water and let gravity take over. Water will slowly flow out of the buckets to soak gently into the soil with no run-off. That's a water-conserving and sustainable way to water.
More tips: Only water when the ground is not frozen. If the soil is powder dry, wet it first with a hose before watering trees so that the water will start to seep down and not just run off. Flooding can cause serious property damage and lead to a $100 or more repair bill.
Becky Garber is member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970- 468-0340.