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Fall and winter watering protects shrubs, perennials, lawns

Dry air, low precipitation, little soil moisture, and fluctuating temperatures are characteristics of fall and winter in many areas of Colorado.

There often can be little or no snow cover to provide soil moisture, particularly from October through March. Trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns can be damaged if they do not receive supplemental water.

Woody plants with shallow root systems require supplemental watering during extended dry fall and winter periods. These include European white and paper birches; Norway, silver, red, Rocky Mountain, and hybrid maples; lindens, alder, hornbeams, dogwood, willows, and mountain ash. Evergreen plants that benefit include spruce, fir, arborvitae, yew, Oregon grape-holly, boxwood, and Manhattan euonymus. Woody plants benefit from mulch to conserve soil moisture.

Herbaceous perennials and ground covers in exposed sites are more subject to winter freezing and thawing. This opens cracks in soil that expose roots to cold and drying. Winter watering combined with mulching can prevent damage.

Lawns also are prone to winter damage. Newly established lawns, whether seed or sod, are especially susceptible to damage. Susceptibility increases for lawns with south or west exposures.

Water only when air temperatures are above 40 degrees. Apply water at mid-day so it will have time to soak in before possible freezing at night. A solid layer (persisting for more than a month) of ice on lawns can cause suffocation or result in matting of the grass. Plants receiving reflected heat from buildings, walls and fences are more subject to damage. The low angle of winter sun makes this more likely in south or west exposures. Windy sites result in faster drying of sod and plants and require additional water. Lawns in warm exposures are prone to late winter mite damage. Water is the best treatment to prevent turf injury. Monitor weather conditions and water during extended dry periods without snow cover—one to two times per month.

Newly-planted trees are most susceptible to winter drought injury. Woody trees generally take one year to establish for each inch of trunk diameter. For example, a 2-inch diameter (caliper) tree takes a minimum of two years to establish under normal conditions. Trees obtain water best when it is allowed to soak into the soil slowly to a depth of 12 inches. Methods of watering trees include: sprinklers, deep-root fork or needle, soaker hose or soft spray wand. Apply water to many locations under the dripline and beyond if possible. If you use a deep-root fork or needle, insert no deeper than 8 inches into the soil. As a general survival rule, apply 10 gallons of water for each diameter inch of the tree. For example, a 2-inch diameter tree needs 20 gallons per watering. Use a ruler to measure your tree’s diameter.

Newly planted shrubs require more water than established shrubs that have been planted for at least one year. The following recommendations assume shrubs are mulched to retain moisture. In dry winters, all shrubs benefit from winter watering from October through March. Apply five gallons two times per month for a newly planted shrub. Small established shrubs (less than 3 feet tall) should receive five gallons monthly. Large established shrubs (more than 6 feet) require 18 gallons on a monthly basis. Decrease amounts to account for precipitation. Water within the dripline of the shrub and around the base. Herbaceous perennial establishment periods vary. Bare root plants require longer to establish than container plants. Perennials transplanted late in the fall will not establish as quickly as plants planted in spring. Winter watering is advisable with late planted perennials, bare root plants, and perennials located in windy or southwest exposures.

Free AgrAbility Program

Thanks to what may be the most elaborate lift of its kind, Yuma, Colorado farmer Dennis Baucke is grounded no longer. Baucke, 53, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 20 years ago. Over the years the disease’s progression has weakened his muscles, especially the muscles in his legs. Eventually it meant that on bad days, when his legs were especially weak, getting into his Ford F250 truck, tractor and combine could only be accomplished with help from family members or friends. Thanks to some great technology and to a public/private partnership, Baucke no longer has to rely on others to get his work done. The Colorado AgrAbility Project, a partnership through Easter Seals Colorado and Colorado State University Extension, teamed up with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) within the Colorado Department of Human Services to ensure Baucke got the help he needed.

Baucke learned about AgrAbility at a Yuma workshop the organization sponsored to educate farmers and ranchers about the program’s focus on helping agricultural workers with disabilities stay on the job.

AgrAbility referred Baucke to DVR to see if assistance could be provided to purchase the flatbed lift. DVR helps individuals with disabilities obtain and maintain employment. This was a great fit for Baucke as he wished to continue as a farmer but was limited by his disability. “Baucke’s case was really about helping a person return to his passion and to continue to provide for his family,” said Andrew Winders, rehabilitation counselor with DVR.

An AgrAbility workshop will be conducted in Pagosa Springs at the CSU Extension Office at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, and includes a free Lunch from noon to 1 p.m. for those who pre-register at least one week prior to the workshop.

“Living with Visual Impairments and Other Physical Challenges on the Ranch/Farm” is this year’s workshop topic. To reserve your spot at the workshop contact the Archuleta County Extension Office at 264-5931 or 264-2388.

For information about DVR, please refer to


Oct. 5 — 6 p.m., 4-H Livestock Committee meeting.

Oct. 8 — Noon, Mountain View Homemakers meeting.

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