Winter watering helps trees thrive in spring

Swelling maple buds mean the arrival of spring.

Swelling maple buds mean the arrival of spring.

It won’t be long before we begin to notice the Elms and Silver Maple buds swelling. Seeing that always gives me hope that Spring is not too far off! Winter is nice and has its own beauty and benefits, one of which allows some fruit trees to get their chill requirements so that they can bear fruit, but I am definitely a warm-weather person.

Why do my trees and shrubs need water in winter?

Plants and trees are not dead, but dormant during the winter. There is root growth that occurs during the dormant season, and because of this it is imperative that the tender roots have the soil moisture they need to survive. If they die off due to drought conditions they will have to draw on energy reserves to regrow the roots that have died off. Repeating this too often can stress a tree, and possibly lead to disease, or die back in the canopy come spring time.

How much water do my plants need in winter?

One of the questions I get asked is, “How much should I water in the winter, or do I even need to water since my trees and lawn are dead in the winter?” That’s the million-dollar question; but remember, your trees are dormant, not dead.

How much winter watering your trees need depends on how much precipitation you’ve received, how warm or cold your temperatures are, how windy it’s been, how porous your soil is, and if the tree/shrub is mature or a newly planted specimen.

Generally it’s best to supplement water when we’ve had a couple of weeks of temperate dry weather. One way to tell if your dormant plants are in need of a drink is to dig around the edge of the canopy, “the drip line,” and if you can make a dirt clod that falls apart easily then it needs water, but if it holds together well then you could hold off a few more days. Trees would really like a depth of optimum moisture in the soil to be about two feet.

It’s best to water when the temperatures are above freezing, and there will be enough time before it re-freezes for it to soak in. I don’t like to rely entirely on irrigation systems in winter, as parts of them may be frozen, consequently not allowing the water to reach some or all of the plants.

A little extra care during the winter will result in happier and healthier trees and plants in the spring and summer.