The next few weeks are a critical time to water your landscape, particularly your evergreen shrubs and trees. A thorough soaking during late September and October will help your trees and shrubs thrive, and may well save them from winter damage or even death.
Woody plants, like camels, store water in their roots and stems. Late summer drought or dryness depletes their stored reserves, causing them to go dormant. Watering evergreens right now will extend their growing season, encouraging healthy root growth while soil temperatures are still warm.
Winter winds can be as damaging to woody plants as summer drought. Once drying winter winds begin, plants can be “freeze-dried”, suffering winter burn and possibly dying of thirst. Generous watering in early fall helps replenish depleted cell tissues, engorging them with water they’ll need to survive freezing weather.
Evergreen shrubs (like boxwood and Azalea) and trees like spruce and pine all keep their foliage in winter. Their leaves and needles are a target for drying winter winds, particularly on tender new growth. That’s why we discourage pruning or shearing after late spring, because cutting plants back stimulates new tender growth that doesn’t have time to harden off before winter comes.
Deciduous plants (plants that lose their leaves for winter) can survive winter winds better than evergreens because moisture loss happens mostly through foliage. Deciduous plants drop their leaves partly as a defense against moisture loss, but winter winds will still suck the moisture out of thin-barked twigs and branches.
Don’t count on fall rains or winter snow to water your landscape. It takes many inches of steady rain to soak all the way down into the subsoil, and right now subsoil moisture is at its lowest point. Late summer dryness hardens clay soils, so rain can’t penetrate down to plant roots and simply runs off.
Deep-root watering takes patience; sometimes it’s best to just set your hose on a trickle and leave it for a few hours under each plant. Taking the time to give your shrubs and trees a good, long drink could mean the difference between seeing them turn brown this winter or enjoying healthy new green growth next spring.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.