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Winter watering for dry landscapes

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.

Watering guidelines

Water only when air temperatures are above 40 degrees F. Apply water at midday 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 the 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 vs. established plants

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 two-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 two-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 three feet tall) should receive five gallons monthly. Large established shrubs (more than six 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. For more information, contact the CSU Extension Office at 264-5931.

Tree and seedling sale

The San Juan Conservation District is offering local landowners the opportunity to purchase a variety of high-quality, reasonably priced seedling trees and shrubs for different conservation uses, shelter belts, reforestation and wildlife habitat enhancement.

Seedlings come from the Colorado State Forest Service nursery in Fort Collins. Bare-root trees are available in multiples of 50 per species and potted trees are available in multiples of 30 per species. Orders are being taken through March 25 and will be available for pick up on April 13. Need an order form? You can stop by the Extension Office at the Fairgrounds or go by the San Juan CD at 505A Piedra Road (next to Piedra Automotive). For more information, call the San Juan Conservation District at 731-3615.

Register now

The 28th Annual San Juan Basin Extension Beef Cattle Symposium will take place on Thursday, Feb. 17, at the La Plata County Fairgrounds in Durango. This year the focus will primary be on profitability, nutrition, and management.

Topics include: Colorado Cattlemen’s Association update, future outlook for the livestock industry, sustainable profitability of cow-calf enterprises, nutrition for cows/ heifers in the third trimester and beyond, managing fertility in cows and bulls and mobile slaughter: is it a viable option? Registration cost is $20 before Feb. 11, or $25 after. This cost includes six informative presentations, lunch and refreshments. Stop by and pick up your registration form today at the CSU Extension Office. For more information, call 264-5931.


Feb. 3 — 6 p.m., Shady Pine 4-H Club; 6 p.m., planning commission public forum.

Feb. 4 —1:45 p.m., Cloverbuds.

Feb. 8 — 6 p.m., Rocky Mountain Riders 4-H Club.

Feb. 9 — 3:30 p.m., 4-H Shooting Sports project; 4 p.m., 4-H Sports Fishing project; 6:30 p.m., Pagosa Peaks 4-H Club.