A few weeks ago the ground was moist. Root vegetables came out of the ground muddy and needed to be scrubbed.
That is not the case anymore. We have had wonderful fall weather that has left the ground dry and crumbly.
It is time to water. Plants have the best chance of winter survival if their roots are full of moisture, sugars and nutrients. The only way to insure this is to provide an environment where the plant can absorb as much moisture as needed.
Plant growth in the fall is very deceiving. Little if any growth is occurring above the ground as it is all taking place in the earth, therefore it is often ignored. Between the time when plants stop putting out new growth and when the soil freezes, plants are developing new roots and storing food for the winter. Plants that have been transplanted are pushing into surrounding soil to anchor themselves against frost heaves.
To grow plants need moisture. Soak the ground with a soft sprinkle to insure that it is absorbed into the soil and does pack the soil and run off.
Determining how much to water is the correct amount can be accomplished either by using a rain gauge or digging in the soil. Place a rain gauge in the area being sprinkled and check it periodically until it contains and inch (2cm). A less scientific way is to dig in the soil and see how far the water has penetrated. Aim for four plus inches (10 cm). Deep watering encourages the roots to grow downward looking for moisture.
It is important to start watering in trees and shrubs now. The roots on these plants tend to be equal to the top growth which means they can hold an enormous amount of moisture.
The large root mass is needed to anchor the plant as well as gather and store nutrients.
Feeder roots for trees and shrubs are located in the top 12 inches (30 cm) of the soil; with the majority of them being close to the dripline.
Soaking the soil under the ends of the branches is therefore most effective.
As the weather turns colder and the ground absorbs less moisture. Instead of sprinkling, leave a hose leaking water in this area moving it when needed.
If time restrains make it impossible to water all the trees and shrubs in, in the fall concentrate on evergreens.
Unlike deciduous trees, evergreens are never completely dormant.
They transpire, loose moisture, on all warm sunny days including ones in winter. If the moisture within the plant is depleted the needles or scales become dry, turn a different shade of green before dying and turning brown.
The only way to rejuvenate the plant is to prune out the dead areas which can lead to a misshapen plant.
Soaking the soil on a weekly basis between now and when the ground freezes will help avoid this problem.
Other alternatives include covering evergreens for the winter. Plants can be loosely wrapped in burlap or they can be covered with a commercial cover. The cover blocks the direct sunlight, reflected light and wind that speeds up transpiration.
Plants should be covered in late fall after the ground freezes. Make sure that the cover job is pleasing to the eye as it will be part of the landscape for 4 to 5 months.
Anti-transpiration sprays have been used for over 50 years. When sprayed on a plant, the transpiration rate slows insuring that the plant retains more moisture. It will need to be applied periodically through out the winter months.
Mother nature is sure to provide us with moisture in the near future but giving plants moisture now will help them get ready for winter now.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or firstname.lastname@example.org