| B. Rosie Lerner
Water to the Rescue
Though drought in summer is more the norm, lack of rain this fall has
resulted in late-season wilting of landscape plants. Such drought-stressed
plants will be in poor condition to face winter, unless gardeners take
Though trees, shrubs and hardy perennials will be dormant in the winter,
they continue to lose moisture through the biological process known as
transpiration. Once the ground freezes, plant roots will no longer be
able to take up water from the surrounding soil to replace this loss.
The condition is further aggravated by strong winter winds.
Another important consideration is that next year's growth and spring
flowers will be determined by buds that will form this fall. So, even
if your plants aren't showing any symptoms now, the damage may become
apparent in spring.
Gardeners can minimize injury by making sure plants are as hydrated as
possible before the onslaught of winter. The best way to apply the water
is by gently but thoroughly soaking the soil with 1 to 1.5 inches of water
about every 10-14 days. This deep watering will encourage deeper root
growth, which, in turn, will be better able to withstand periods of low
moisture. Avoid frequent, shallow watering, which encourages roots to
stay shallow and, thus, be more likely to succumb to drought. Sandy soil
and containerized plants will need more frequent irrigation.
Watering of landscape and fruit plants should be aimed at where the roots
naturally occur. While these woody plants do have some roots that grow
deeper, most of the feeder roots, which are responsible for water uptake,
occur in the top 18 inches of soil. Most of these feeder roots are concentrated
below the dripline of the plant and beyond, not up close to the trunk.
Allow water to thoroughly soak the target area by applying water at a
slow enough rate to allow penetration, rather than wasting water by runoff.
Don't apply the water any faster than 1 inch per hour. As with annual
plants, applying mulch will help conserve soil moisture.
It may not be practical to water the entire landscape, so you may need
to practice a bit of triage first for the most vulnerable specimens, such
as young plants and broadleaved evergreens, whether new or established.
And there's still hope that Mother Nature will come through with some
rainfall for the rest of the landscape.