Water. The life blood of all living things.
Too little can result in death but too much can also bring death. No truer statements have been uttered but did you know we as gardeners often are guilty of one or the other excesses?
And what could be more important to Coloradans than water? Mark Twain famously said: "Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over." So today we are going to talk about proper watering, mostly about trees and woody perennials.
First we'll address newly planted trees. Most of you will either build a basin around the tree, diking out as far as the drip line. You then dutifully flood this basin every time you water. The alternative is to put in an irrigation system with drip emitters or spray nozzles that are close to the tree's trunk. Oftentimes only two.
Both these methods work well for the first year but please change this for the second and subsequent years. Tree roots can grow several feet out from the original container or root ball space in the first year.
You must remove this basin and water a larger area, preferably using a sprinkler. Sprinkler heads spraying toward the trunk need to be pointed outward and maybe even moved further away from the trunk.
Our soils tend to be fairly heavy clay. Trees and other woody perennials will have most of their roots in the upper 12-18 inches. This means roots will spread out further and can potentially dry out sooner.
A bigger problem may be competition from other plants. Trees planted in the lawn often are water starved because the grass is intercepting most of the irrigation water. I tend to plant my trees and shrubs in areas adjacent to lawns rather than in them.
This brings us to another potential watering problem; mixing together plants with different water requirements. A pinon is not going to do well in a bluegrass lawn. Likewise, many of our natives are going to need much less water than our annual flowers we purchase from local nurseries.
Water needs are handled by how much and how often. It is better to water less often and more deeply for this encourages a better root system. One that can withstand drought conditions better.
I may water my established junipers and pinyons every two months during the heat of the summer but my neighbor's bluegrass lawn needs water at least twice a week. Newly planted trees and shrubs may need to be watered every few days at first. Watering frequency in their second and subsequent years will decrease.
I do not have many water loving plants. Most of my woody plants are watered on a 21-, 40- or 60-day cycle. Some even less frequently. The surest way to kill a newly planted big sagebrush (Artemisia) bush is to water it. This shrub will die if you water it much, even when newly planted.
Don't forget to mulch around your trees and woody perennials. This will hold moisture in the soil and help extend your watering frequency. Just make sure you keep the mulch away from the tree trunk or shrub base. We don't want to keep the base of these plants wet and we don't want to provide a refuge for pests to live next to the plant base.
One last piece of advice: adjust your watering schedule according to needs. Water in the winter about every 30-40 days when weather permits. Water less frequently in the cooler spring and late fall and more frequently when it is hot and dry.
We don't get much rain here so make sure you provide life's blood to your plants. Trees that become stressed from too much or too little water are more susceptible to disease and pest problems. Water the right amount at the right time at the right frequency.
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a master gardener.blog comments powered by Disqus