Winter Water!

This important landscape maintenance tip isn’t brought up enough in Colorado or other high desert areas . . . WINTER WATERING!

But why is winter watering important for the health and longevity of your trees and shrubs?  Let’s start with a simple (but complex) fact . . . snow inches DO NOT equal rain inches.  I have seen various experts claim anywhere from 3” to 12” of snow equals 1” of rain.  That is a huge difference!  The short answer is that it depends on the humidity of where you are.  But I digress.  Let’s play it safe, I am going to make an assumption.  For the sake of this discussion let’s assume 9” of snow equals 1” of rain.

Now, like everywhere else, winter temperatures and conditions differ from week to week in Colorado.  In a Colorado winter, we can go from one week being in the high 60s to being below freezing the next.  But one thing is for certain we have very low humidity ALL year.  Even our most xeric plants rely on some moisture even when they are dominant.  Colorado Springs (according to the National Weather Service) averages 15” of rain a year.  Going with a conservative 4” of that moisture comes from the winter months that would mean 36” of snow needs to fall.  WOW!  

So, why is this important?  If you can imagine how your skin gets dry and cracked when you don’t have enough moisture well our plants experience the same thing.  Your cracked skin will reveal that new tender skin below that hurts when that fresh skin is exposed prematurely.  Your plants will feel it too, when their bark cracks it exposes new flesh that isn’t ready.  In humans, it causes inflammation and sometimes infections.  Your plants are just as exposed to harm as we are.  But if we drink plenty of water, maybe put on some moisturizer our skin heals or doesn’t crack in the first place.  Now, please do not put moisturizer on your plants, we are not the same.  BUT a healthy drink of water during the spells of no snow and no moisture will help keep the outer skin of your plants healthy and strong.

Hold on though!  Too much water while your plants are dormant will cause damage too!  Just like drinking too much water and not enough food can cause serious health issues to humans.  Too much water in the winter months could pull your trees and shrubs out of dormancy which now leaves them exposed to cracking from water-heavy bark and branches freezing suddenly.  

An oversimplification but your non-xeric trees and shrubs need to get some moisture twice a month, most xeric plants can go a lot longer.  I warn my clients if we haven’t gotten any snow or rain in 6-8 weeks water EVERYTHING.  

But how much?  Again, an oversimplification but a 1 – 5 gallon bucket of water per shrub and, depending on the size of the tree, 2-3 – 5 gallon buckets of water per tree.  If you have an irrigation expert in your back pocket, please defer to the expert.  This is a generalization only.  To replace a tree or shrub isn’t just replacing the value of the plant (which can be quite expensive for a tree), but you are also losing the time it took to have that plant mature.  

Trees are an investment in your landscape.

So, don’t forget to winter water!