Winter Watering and Protection

We rarely have a wet winter. Last year was a wonderful exception. Diligent green-thumbers water their trees and shrubs at least once per month through the winter, unless it rains or snows enough to moisten the soil to a depth of 12 inches. If not, start dragging hoses to trees and give them a good soak to that 12-inch depth on a day when water will soak in. Trees and shrubs always do better after winters with lots of precipitation. What nature doesn’t supply, you have to, or you will see parts of your plants die back next spring and summer.

Snow brings extra work for gardeners, besides shoveling or blowing. Branches can only hold so much weight before bending and possibly breaking. As you use your snow blower or shovel, try not to blow or toss the snow onto the branches of trees or shrubs. On the other hand, gently placing the snow under the driplines of trees and shrubs is a good way to insulate them from the cold and provide some much-needed winter moisture. A mound of snow covering the grafts on roses can shield the graft from the drying winter sun, protect them from the cold and slowly water them at the same time. Packing snow around and over containerized plants (including potted Christmas trees after Christmas) can reduce the freeze and thaw damage that often kills the roots in pots.

If snow is weighing heavily on the limbs of your trees or shrubs, remove it gently from the branches. Avoid hitting the plants because you can damage or break frozen limbs. A better method is to lift up the branches gently from underneath with a broom. The upward movement loosens the snow, allowing it to fall off. You may want to wrap shrubs under eaves in burlap using stakes and twine or shield them with plywood to protect them from heavy snow crashing down off the roof.

Every winter, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension receives calls about whether chemical deicers damage trees and shrubs. There are various chemical formulations of deicers available and each works differently. These products all contain salts, most of which can damage plants, concrete and contribute to rusting of sidewalks and driveways. Pines in general are particularly sensitive to salts. If you find using deicer necessary for safety, use a product containing calcium magnesium acetate in the minimal amount recommended on the label. Sand alone is another alternative. Kitty litter and ash are sometimes mentioned as other options, but they don’t melt the ice and do make a mess that you can track into the house.

Keep your plants protected and watered through the winter for better growth next year.