Put the Flip Flops Away but Keep the Hose Out

The air has turned chilly, the sun is setting earlier, and the Pumpkin Spice Latte fanatics are in heaven. While shorts and t-shirts may have been begrudgingly traded for jeans and sweaters, it’s a bit too early to put away the garden hose. Summertime temperatures mean lots of water, but what about in the fall?

There is a belief that in autumn, watering can be stopped altogether. Why keep it up when temperatures are lower, trees aren’t growing, rain is frequent, and failing that - snowmelt will be enough, right? Alas, that just isn’t the case. In normal conditions, trees and conifers become stressed from a lack of water but heading into winter, dry roots and needles can be a major cause of trouble in the spring. Deciduous trees indeed go dormant in the fall focusing energy toward the root system, and while lower temps and periodic rain might mean less frequent watering, plants still need a good supply of water to get through the winter. Sometimes we’re blessed with a mild day or two in mid-winter when the snow begins to melt; however, because that snow sits atop the frozen ground, the tree’s roots cannot access the water.

Although coniferous trees don’t lose their needles, it is critical to give them generous amounts of water before freeze sets in. Evergreens don’t go into full dormancy and will lose moisture through their needles in the dry, winter air. To prepare, they need to store as much water as possible going into the winter season. Flowers and shrubs also need a consistent amount of moisture right up until the ground freezes.

Keep watering trees as needed until the ground begins to freeze, which usually happens in late October or November. Watching your local weather forecast is a good way to stay in the know on freeze days. The best way to tell if your plants need H2O is to insert your finger into the soil about 2” -- if the soil feels dry, then it’s time to water. Plan to water until temperatures continuously dip into the 30s. Water in the morning so plants can absorb it before temperatures drop at night.

Bark Mulch is also a very good way to give trees a leg up, or in this case, a branch up, over winter. Applying a layer of mulch in autumn protects the soil from moisture loss and helps regulate soil temperature throughout the winter.

It may seem rather counterintuitive to continue watering when leaves are dropping and plants turning brown, but it is a necessity to maintain good health. Liken it to tucking them in with a nice, cozy blanket and a cup of cocoa and you’ll be rewarded in springtime with happy and healthy plants.