SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Although dormant, trees still need water in winter according to Kelly McGowan, Horticulture Educator with University of Missouri Extension.
“This need for water is especially important during periods of drought like we are experiencing now,” said McGowan. “This is the number one question we are getting in our county extension office now.”
There is a good way to tell if a tree needs water. First, dig into the soil six to eight inches under the tree’s drip line (directly underneath the widest part of the tree’s canopy). If the soil is dry to the touch, the tree needs water.
“Normally, we do not water trees this time of year, but with the dry weather, supplemental irrigation may be needed, especially with young or newly planted trees,” said McGowan.
There are some tips to keep in mind when watering trees according to McGowan.
For starters, apply water slowly with a soaker hose, drip line or slow-release watering bag.
For small trees and shrubs, use a five-gallon bucket with a tiny hole drilled in the bottom. A 1/8 inch hole will apply water at five gallons per hour.
Large, mature trees may need one or two deep waterings per month. Younger or newly planted trees may need more.
Even though water is needed during a drought, take care not to over-water which can be harmful to trees which normally use less water during winter months. McGowan also recommends avoiding fertilizer during winter dormancy which can stimulate growth at the wrong time of year.
“If you haven’t already, apply mulch under the tree to conserve water, but don’t pile it around the trunk,” said McGowan. “This is also a good reminder that native tree species are better suited to seasonal drought conditions.”
For more information, contact the nearest University of Missouri Extension Center and ask for MU guide G6879, “Irrigating Trees and Shrubs During Summer Drought”. The publication is also available online at extension.missouri.edu.
For additional information, contact one of MU Extension’s horticulture specialists or educators in southwest Missouri: Patrick Byers in Webster County at (417) 859-2044, Kelly McGowan in Greene County at (417) 881-8909 or Robert Balek in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158. Or, call the gardening hotline operated by the Master Gardeners of Greene County at 417-874-2963.
— Kelly McGowan, University of Missouri Extension
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