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Colorado winters on the Front Range can be tough on your landscape. Dry air, combined with very low precipitation levels in January and February, can dehydrate dormant plants. Unfortunately, it may be months before you can tell your plants have been damaged—they may appear normal as they resume growth in the spring, but die unexpectedly in the summer.

In general, you’ll need to water your landscape during extended dry periods without snow cover. It’s best to do your watering when the air temperature is comfortably above freezing and the soil is thawed. A slow trickle around the warmest part of the day will help make sure the water has plenty of time to soaks in and doesn’t run off, especially when you have hard or compact soil.

But how much water is enough? Check out these tips for winter watering trees and shrubs.

Here’s a handy guide that provides some general rules of thumb. Decrease these recommended amounts based on recent precipitation.

Tree watering

If your tree was planted in the last few years, or if it has a shallow root system (in the top 8 inches of the soil)—like elm, maple, fir and spruce— winter watering is especially critical in preventing dehydration.

Before you pull out the hose or deep root fork, test the moisture of the soil about 4 to 8 inches deep. If the soil is dry to the touch, go ahead and water the tree. Experts commonly recommend about 10 to 20 gallons of water for each diameter inch of tree. If you have no idea how big the circumference of your tree trunk is, don’t worry. It’s easy to find out. Measure the trunk with a simple measuring tape about 4 feet from the base of the tree.

Shrub watering

In general, mulched shrubs retain moisture better and so are less likely to dehydrate in the winter. When watering recently planted shrubs (less than one year old), estimate about 5 gallons twice a month. For small, established shrubs (less than 3 feet), water needs are less: 5 gallons once a month. Large, established shrubs (more than 6 feet) need upward of 18 gallons every month.
Again, these are only rough guidelines and landscape owners should reduce recommended amounts based on recent precipitation and snow ground cover.

If you have questions about caring for your landscape in the harsh, dry Front Range winter, give the experts at Detailed Landscape a call. We’ll make sure your landscape survives and thrives year-round.