For Release November 16, 1999

Itís Time to Water the Trees

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

It has been dry, it is dry and it looks like it might stay dry. On top of that, it is much warmer than normal. Now that Iíve told you what you already know we can move on to more important things. Such as what impact this weather is having on the landscape plants around your home and what you need to do about that.

I am not a big supporter of watering lawns. However, given the extremely dry conditions we have had since early August, it probably would not hurt to give your lawn a good soaking. Thatís IF you werenít watering it previously this fall. If you were watering it earlier and just recently turned the water system off, I would not turn it back on. If you havenít watered your lawn all fall, it probably wouldnít hurt to give it one good soaking now.

Will the lawn die if you donít water it? Probably not. But we do know that perennial plants will survive harsh winter weather conditions better if they are in moist soil. If you applied fertilizer this fall and it hasnít been watered in yet, then this is another reason to water the lawn. You need to wash that fertilizer into the ground where it can do some good.

If you recently (in 1998 or 1999) planted any landscape trees or shrubs of any kind I would give them a good slow soaking. This doesnít require a root feeder/waterer or any fancy equipment. Just place an open garden hose running at a slow trickle under the tree and let it run for several hours. Dry soil tends to crack open. Cold frozen soils tend to crack open. Cold dry frozen soil can crack even worse. This can let cold air in around roots causing winterkill, freezer burn or more accurately cold dehydration. Water the soil good, apply lots of mulch and hope for snow.

What I am really concerned about is any evergreen plant. This can be a pine, a spruce a juniper or even the deciduous evergreens like holly, boxwood and euonymous. These plants can all carry on photosynthesis any time of the year. Photosynthesis requires light and water. If the plant doesnít have water it can draw from the soil, it starts to use water within the plant. This causes a lot of the winter burn injury we see on evergreens.

The warm weather adds to the potential problem. Photosynthesis is a chemical reaction. Like all chemical reactions, the warmer it is, the faster the reaction occurs. In this case, the warmer weather means that plants that are carrying on photosynthesis use water faster.

Anytime we go without rain for about a month you really need to water your evergreen plants, even if itís the middle of the winter. If you have a maple tree that is starting to get dry, it is easy to tell because the leaves start to get droopy and wilt. Because most evergreens have a different type of leaf, this early drought stress is not nearly as obvious. You normally donít even know that a plant is experiencing drought stress until it is too late. Six to ten weeks, or longer, after the stress becomes critical needles will start to lose their green color, die and fall off. By then itís too late.

So until we start to get good soaking rains again, or whenever weíve gone a month without good precipitation, I would water any evergreens in my yard. Once again, donít worry about using a root feeder for this activity. Evergreens have shallow roots. Many root feeders/waterers wind up putting the water below the critical root zone. Just place an open garden hose running a slow trickle under the evergreen plant and let it run for several hours. But remember if temperatures are dropping below freezing at night to disconnect the hose from the water spigot before nightfall!


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