Landscape Logic column: Why plants need TLC in the winter

Moose snowman
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This time of year, we think our landscapes are tucked away for their long winter’s nap. Yet this is dry Colorado and even leafless trees and dormant lawns will become very thirsty.

The norm for snowfall is 12-15 inches per winter at lower elevations — much more at our altitude, and that equates to only about 1 inch of moisture. That’s not enough water to keep plants from suffering winter drought stress. And unfortunately, the effects often don’t show up until the heat of summer.

A series of unfortunate events following winter drought stress can set up a deadly three strikes that can take plants out. Drought stress that dehydrates roots, followed by freeze damage that is later followed by other stressors such as an insect infestation or summer heat stress will often be more than plants can handle.

Winter watering, on the other hand, can keep plants healthy enough to move on and deal with the next stress factor more successfully. Here are tips for winter watering and plant care.

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Supplemental water during dry spells in the fall and winter is very important to bringing plants into the next growing season in good health.

• Warm days during fall, winter and early spring can dry out plants and roots.

• If you check the soil and it is dry down to about 3 inches deep, then you should apply supplemental water to the lawn, trees and other plants.

• As long as daytime temps are above freezing and the soil is not frozen, plants can be watered.

• It’s best to water trees with a deep root watering device attached to the hose so that water gets deeper into the soil where roots live.

Mulch and moisture

Applying mulch around trees and other plants is also very beneficial.

• A good wood mulch (not rock) can conserve as much as 30 percent of moisture in the soil.

• Mulch also helps insulate plants against severe cold and fluctuating temps.

• Apply mulch no more than 4 inches deep as deeper mulch can start to sour and hold in too much moisture.

• Also avoid placing mulch next to tree trunks and shrub stems as this, too, can hold in too much moisture and cause the trunk or stems to rot.

Stressed lawns

Lawn areas exposed to winter sun will dry out faster, especially on a slope. And these conditions also attract turf mites. Applying moisture is the best deterrent to mites — and gives the thirsty lawn the moisture it needs in the process.

Run the hose with a sprinkler attached to water the lawn. As in the summer, avoid the quick spritz and apply a good soak of moisture.

During the season of giving, the gift of moisture to your plants will not only be well received, but will reward you later with stronger, healthier plant material.

Need help with winter watering? Find a pro from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado with members in six chapters statewide.

Becky Garber is a 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.

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