Your landscaping may suffer from mild winter | Living the Country Life

Your landscaping may suffer from mild winter

January 10, 2012

Sunny and 54° today. Bob is digging fence posts and working cattle outside in January and his hands aren’t cold. This is very strange weather, but we’ll take it.

Your landscaping may need some help, however. I got this advice today and wanted to share it.

The combination of warm temperatures and lack of precipitation means homeowners may need to water their trees and shrubs, says John Ball, South Dakota State University professor of plant science and Extension forestry specialist. “Evergreens are particularly at risk for dehydration because they might be actively losing water from transpiration, as well as evaporation from the soil surface,” said Ball. “I’ve received many calls from homeowners wondering if they should water, particularly trees and shrubs that were planted last year and have not had time to establish a large root system. The answer is yes. Water if your soil is not frozen, and if it is beginning to dry out.”

Before watering, Ball suggests using a trowel or spade and dig down at least 6 inches into the soil profile to check if the soil is frozen. If it is frozen, don’t water. Water only when the air temperatures are above 40 degrees. “Restrict watering to mid-day so that the water will have an opportunity to soak into the soil before night. However if the trunk is still frozen, even this water will not be absorbed,” Ball said.

Warm temperatures may induce winter kill
Ball says he expects to see more winter kill in trees and shurbs this year due to the warm winter temperatures. “I expect to see more winter-kill this spring as well as, calls from people noticing their flowering trees and shrubs are not flowering as much as normal or not at all,” Ball said. “This year we may see even more “winter” injury as the unseasonably warm weather is beginning to coax some plants out of their dormancy prematurely. We are already seeing flower buds for many of our spring flowering shrubs expanding as well as the leaf buds to some tree species. These plants are beginning to lose their tolerance to extremely cold temperatures and if, or I should say when, we experience subzero weather, the tender buds and shoots may be killed. ”

Ball says the extent of injury a particular plant might receive may not be known until later this winter after – we have the inevitable cold snap. To understand how much injury a plant has received, Ball says in early March homeowners can pull away the bark from one year old twig. “If the wood is light colored, the tissue did not experience cold injury and the plant should be fine, but if the wood is brown it was injured by the cold,” Ball said.

Wait to prune
Despite the warm weather making yard work easier at this time, Ball suggests delaying any pruning until late March. “It might be best to delay pruning, particularly ornamental flowering trees and fruit trees until late March, just before bud break.  At that time any of the shoots that were killed by the cold will be easier to see since their buds will be shrunken and dry, rather than large and soft,” Ball said.

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