It’s amazing how different each year can be for the weather patterns in our region. For the last couple of years we have seen higher than normal rain and snowfalls and this past year has been a continuation of the same. I don't think I had to water the lawn once this year and keeping up with the gardens wasn't nearly as bad. Looks like the forecast is for another long and snowy winter and with that usually comes strong and drying winds.
We are only one week away from autumn's official entrance and I an already seeing some of the leaves beginning to change colors. It will remain wet this week, but warmer temperatures are on the way and this is a good time to slowly start hydrating out newly planted perennials and trees. Like a runner preparing for a marathon by drinking plenty of fluids before the race and during the event, our plants also need to take in moisture now before they enter their dormancy for the cold winter ahead.
If our plants go into the winter without becoming hydrated, we increase their chances of them perishing by the time spring arrives. This is not only the case for our perennials, but is true for our young trees and shrubs and all the evergreen species.
The best time to hydrate your trees and shrubs is before they lose their leaves. The plant is more apt to draw water into its system when it is still in the active stage before dormancy sets in. The main reason to hydrate your plants now is to allow the highest concentrate of moisture to enter the outer stems and the smallest branches of the plants, as these are the first to desiccate or die in prolonged dry periods.
The best rule of thumb for watering a tree or shrub properly is to place a hose near the base of the plant and allow the soil to saturate all the way to the drip line of the tree. The drip line is the outer most width that the branches span out from the trunk and straight down from that point. The soil should be saturated to a depth of 4 inches deep for proper hydration within this area. Large trees do not require this amount of moisture as their roots reach deep into the soil. Trees that have a trunk diameter of 6 inches or less are the ones that benefit most, along with the shrub species.
A good way to test if your soil is hydrated to the proper depth is to take a core sample near the outer drip line. Simply take a metal or PVC pipe that is 1 inch thick and push it into the ground 4 inches. When you pull it from the ground, check the bottom of the soil core in the center to make sure it is wet. If it is dry, continue to water for optimum conditions.
Evergreen trees and shrubs are much more susceptible to winter desiccation due to dry conditions than their deciduous counterparts. Their needles and scales transpire all season long, so it is imperative to make sure they have plenty of moisture to make it through the season. In most cases where the plant is too dry, severe winter burn will occur during the early spring causing an orange or red tint to the branches. If this is severe enough, it will kill the branch and the growth buds, causing the inevitable removal of limbs from the plant. This is never a good option for the shape and vigor of the tree in the years to come.
Evergreen varieties contain a fibrous root system, where 60-80% of their roots are within the first 2 feet of soil. Saturating this upper layer will greatly improve the health and vigor of your plant to make it into the spring season. Arborvitae species are the most susceptible to desiccation as their flat scale-like branches contain a very large surface area for the evaporation of water to occur during cold, dry, windy conditions. Pay extra attention to these types, especially if they have been recently planted.
Always focus on the young and newly planted items first, as they will require the most attention and care. Then work your way up to some of the older trees to make sure you have covered all the items in your yard that will benefit from this process.
A sprinkler works well in the garden to hydrate your perennials. Their roots don’t nearly go as deep as the trees and shrubs. I also leave most of the dead perennial stems on over the winter to ensure they capture the snow for a good winter cover. In a dry season, any snow around your plants will be of high value, not only for the protection against the snow, but also for the moisture during the spring thaw.
The trees are going into an early dormancy this year due to colder than average temperatures and shorter daylight hours. Hydrating your plants now will only cause a benefit for them once the ground freezes and winter is upon us once again. We have no guarantees that this winter will provide any more moisture over last winter, so be proactive and start your watering soon. The marathon into winter will begin before you know it, so make sure you hydrate plenty before the season is upon us. The results will only be advantageous to all your plants once spring arrives.