Now it’s the end of September and I’m just starting to think about preparing the plants, especially the trees, for the cold. Our weather has been quite warm until recently and the trees still needed a good bit of water. Water weaning appears to be at least a month late as the onset of our freezing weather recedes to mid-October.
The logic behind reducing water is to slow growth. We don’t want trees and other plants to actively grow when the cold weather arrives. A frost will kill this tender young shoot, stressing the plant.
Newly planted or unhealthy plants are particularly susceptible and their vigor may be adversely affected for the next growing season.
This is the same reason why we are not fertilizing trees and shrubs at this time. I wait for the plants to go dormant and then I will fertilize everything with a 16-16-16 fertilizer. This will give the plants the nutrients they need to be strong and develop good roots during the winter.
In the spring I will fertilize again and the plants will thrive.
What further complicates water weaning is the fact that we are in a period of drought. The only soil moisture available is that which we, as stewards of the landscape and garden, provide. I hesitate because I don’t want to limit my watering too early to make sure the trees overwinter after being watered deeply.
In addition to figuring out my fall watering schedule, I also plan to water monthly during the winter, unless we receive much-needed rainfall.
But this is a glorious time for the fall planting. I decided last spring that I wanted more daffodils. I hope to plant dozens of them. Their bright color always cheers me up after the lack of winter color.
Fall is not only a good time to plant bulbs, but it is also the best time to plant trees and shrubs. The soil is warm and the roots will grow slowly all winter long, as long as you keep the soil from drying out. Once spring arrives, new trees should develop, easily exceeding trees planted in the spring in size and vigor. Be sure to protect the base of the trunk from bark-gnawing critters.
Gardening and landscaping are always confusing. However, as gardeners we are fearless and resourceful, always adapting to new challenges.
Joanne Skelly is Associate Professor and Emeritus Teacher in Extension at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Send an email to [email protected]