Winter Watering Woes

Winter Watering Woes

Preservation Tree Care Winter Watering for snowy trees

While cold weather and dark days have settled upon us, and we retreat to the warmth of our homes or embrace the outdoor activities this season brings, our woody tree friends still need regular water to keep them healthy. While surface watering your trees is the simplest way to give your trees a drink, in the winter, if you leave your hose attached to the spigot, you may be in for a surprise. An attached hose can ruin not only your hose and spigot, but could also cause catastrophic damage by causing your pipes to freeze and burst. Don’t let the weather get you and your plants down. Contact a certified arborist in Denver, like Preservation Tree Care, to help water your trees and plants this winter. 

Whether you realize it or not, your trees and plants still need to be watered in the winter. Between lingering snowpack, frozen soil, colder temperatures, and dormancy, shouldn’t trees naturally find respite from summer drought conditions? Truth is, conditions for drought stress are often more severe during the winter. Without yellow, droopy trees to indicate signs of drought, your tree’s watering needs may go unnoticed until the spring, especially if you think the winter snow is doing the trick. Unfortunately, unlike a Spring rain, winter snow tends to remain on top of the soil until it evaporates into the atmosphere. This leaves the roots dry and craving water, a situation only made worse by harsh winter winds. 

Many people delay or forgo winter watering altogether in Colorado, which can lead to root die off and ultimately tree decline and death. hesitate to water during winter out of fear of freezing the roots of their trees. While winter watering can pose challenges, it’s a must for trees in the front range. Certified Arborist, Matthew Shepay (Mayo) shares his experience with winter watering for the past 20 years. “It’s a night and day difference when we see trees that have been watered or not over the winter. Trees that receive regular winter watering are more vibrant and healthier during the growing season. They grow faster and are less susceptible to pests and disease. They are also more resilient to harsh environmental conditions that are becoming more and more prevalent in Colorado. It’s the number 1 thing you can do to keep your trees healthy here in town.”

Tree experts, like Matthew Shepayo with Preservation Tree Care, have the knowledge and experience to give your tree’s roots a deep watering that will help the plant tissues stay plump and water-filled, so they are also more insulated, reducing frost-related injury to the overall tree (including branches and needles!). So, while it is true trees may need less frequent watering in the winter than in summer, the right amount is a balancing act that is essential for winter survival. 

So how should one water their winter trees? While consulting with a certified arborist for tree care services is recommended to eliminate guesswork and establish the best protocol for your trees’ specific soil and environmental challenges, a few rules of thumb can demystify the ins and outs of proper winter watering.

  1. Water on a schedule- Establishing a new schedule for deep watering during the winter can be daunting, but it’s necessary. Whether you hire a certified arborist to water your trees, or do it yourself, sticking to a schedule is just as important in the winter, as summer. Deep watering once or twice a month is a good starting guideline to avoid oversaturation. If you’re worried about overwatering, a good rule of thumb is to apply 2-5 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter. You can also consult with a certified arborist in Denver to help with your regular tree care services, including winter watering.

Winter water is especially important if you planted trees and shrubs on your property within the last 3 years. These young plants require frequent watering and are more prone to drought stress than established trees. To check your soil, dig down 2 inches near the root line with a trowel and feel with bare fingers. If your soil is dry, it’s best to increase your watering routine. If the soil is still moist, wait. Soil should be moist but never soggy. Grab some soil and make a fist with your hand. If the material clumps and then breaks easily, you’re on the right track. If it doesn’t clump, it’s too dry and should be watered. If it doesn’t break, it’s too wet, and you should allow time for it to dry before applying water. Cold, soggy soil can lead to root rot and increase the likelihood of trees toppling in high winds. Fortunately, if you’re in the Denver area, Preservation Tree Care offers an Essential Watering program that will take the guesswork out of watering by adding a proprietary blend of additives that will build a soil biome to help your soil retain moisture. Additionally, expert arborists, like those at Preservation Tree Care, will offer surface watering in order to get a large quantity of water to the root zone. Surface watering allows gravity to take the water where it needs to go naturally.

    1. Water at the right time- Though sticking to a schedule is important, in winter, timing watering with the weather is critical because water cannot easily penetrate snow packed or frozen soil. This may require some flexibility. Water only when temperatures are above freezing, and ideally, above 40⁰F (4.4⁰ C). Water as early in the day as temperatures allow so that the water has the maximum amount of time to penetrate the soil before temperatures dip for the night. Standing water that freezes for long periods of time can cause root suffocation, so it is critical to time watering to encourage drainage. Standing water is more likely in soils with higher percentages of clay, as the water has a harder time penetrating and moving through this fine substrate. If you have persistent frozen soil or heavy clay soil and are looking for tree care services near Denver, contact Preservation Tree Care. Preservation Tree Care offers an essential watering program that will take the worry out of watering and will have your trees and plants feeling great throughout the year!     
  • Water the right way- This includes how and where you water. As in summer, watering along the canopy drip line for established trees and at the root ball for newly planted trees places water where the roots can best access it. Use a hose or ground spike to place the water in these areas at a pace that avoids runoff. A healthy blanket of mulch (3-4 inches) over the top of a soaker hose or drip system and out as far as the roots spread can increase insulation to both hose and roots, reducing the potential for freezing damage. However, for long stretches of cold, consider tree services and essential watering, especially if you have frozen soils or irrigation damage concerns. A good tree care service provider is an investment that will save you the energy, time, and cost of replacing frost-damaged systems and improperly watered trees. 

Winter watering is essential, but it can be a challenge to know where to start. With fallen leaves, busy schedules, holiday distractions, and our desire to stay cozy, leaving this key step in landscape management to chance is an all-too-common issue. Luckily, tree care professionals like the arborists at Preservation Tree Care in Denver can offer a range of  tree services to fit your needs and help you keep your trees cozy and well-watered until spring!


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