Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
November, 2007
Regional Report

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During prolonged dry spells, water the lawn and landscape plants on a warm day.

Fall Watering Helps Plants Survive

During a recent trip across the mountains I was amazed at the lack of snow covering the Rockies. Normally snow is abundant this time of year. Even as I left the dry High Plains, it was evident that Mother Nature was being stingy with moisture.

Although it may seem like outdoor gardening activities are at a standstill, seasoned gardeners will take advantage of the bright, crisp days of fall to check landscape plants and water those that are dry. This extra bit of attention can help ensure plant survival.

The past several weeks of warm, windy, and dry weather can quickly deplete the soil of moisture and put plant roots at risk of dehydration. Often an evergreen will resume growth in early spring and appear normal but later begin to die back in summer. This condition -- referred to as "winterkill" -- is often the result of damage that we can prevent now.

High-Priority Plants
Your entire landscape, including the lawn, will benefit by supplemental watering during the prolonged dry spells of fall and early winter. Pay particular attention to shallow-rooted plants like European white birch, native clump birch, maple trees, lindens, and aspen trees, which are vulnerable to root injury from the lack of subsoil moisture. Since evergreens such as spruce, firs, yews, and junipers are using water year-round, it is important to provide them with moisture as long as the ground remains unfrozen.

Plants that are growing next to the house or other structures can suffer more intensely from lack of water because of reflected heat. Lawns with sloped areas and those facing south, southwest, and west will dry out more quickly or can be subject to lawn mite injury when soil moisture is lacking.

You don't need anything fancy for watering trees and shrubs during the fall and winter. A simple frog-eye or twin sprinkler attached to the garden hose will do just fine. Set the sprinkler on a warm day at the dripline of the tree or shrub and allow it to run for 10 to 15 minutes. Then move it around the plant so you get a uniform coverage of the area where the roots grow. It is best to do this early in the day to ensure that the water soaks down deeply.

If you use a probe to water, pay attention because it is so easy to waste water with a probe. Leave the probe in the soil for 30 seconds or until water begins to bubble out, and then move it along to the next spot. Don't insert the probe and then walk away for ten minutes or more. If you prefer, and have the patience, you can use a hydro spear for watering trees and shrubs.

Water the lawn for 15- to 20-minute cycles. If you have a self-draining sprinkler system, use it and be sure to winterize the backflow valves.

Remember to check your plants monthly during prolonged dry spells. The supplemental water you provide every four to five weeks, or as needed, will go a long way toward protecting your outdoor investment.

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