Guest Column: It’s Time to Plan for Fall, Winter Tree Care

This guest column was written by Cathy Hemker from the City of Green River Tree Board.

Life in a high-elevation desert creates some challenges for trees and shrubs. We generally receive approximately 8 inches of precipitation a year, far less than trees require to stay healthy. We also experience cold, windy winters and hot, windy summers, conditions that make it even more important for us to pay attention to the amount of water we provide in addition to what nature gives us.

Watering is important throughout a tree’s life, but the first three years are particularly important. Watering during the winter is also critical to prevent the tree from dehydrating in the winter winds and to prepare the tree to withstand the hot, windy summer to come. Soil type and its drainage characteristics vary from one spot to another, even in the very same town and yard. That means it’s hard to give exact amounts of water that are perfect for all locations and situations. However, regardless of where your trees and shrubs are planted, the following recommendations will help you maintain tree and shrub health throughout the winter.

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During these autumn months, continue watering as you do during the spring and summer: 5 gallons per week if you have just recently planted the tree or shrub. During the first 3 years, provide one and a half gallons per inch diameter of the trunk as often as every other day for rapidly draining soils, but watering at least once a week for slower draining soils. Focus the watering within 6 inches of the trunk to make sure it gets to the root zone. After the first 3 years, water within the dripline, which is the area directly located under the outer circumference of the tree branches. For large trees, focus on watering within 6 feet of the trunk and at the dripline all around the tree.

Once the ground freezes, watering becomes simpler and less frequent but is just as important as watering at any other time of year. If there’s no snow on the ground when the temperature gets above 40 degrees, water early in the day so it can soak into the ground before the temperature drops below freezing again. It’s best to provide 15-20 gallons a month throughout the winter until early spring.

As for pruning, winter is also the ideal time to prune your trees. It’s easier to see the branches without their leaves. Remove branches that rub against others, plus any that are diseased, deformed, dead, or broken off. Diseases can’t be spread during the winter and there’s very little stress to the tree when pruning in the winter.

Many factors contribute to the health of our trees, such as selecting trees that survive in our USDA Hardiness Zone (zones 4 and 5 in Sweetwater County). Equally important are site selection, planting technique, and proper protection from diseases and pests. Protecting the trunk, mulching, fertilizing, and pruning are all considerations during the active growing season of your trees. Additional information is available from the Wyoming State Forestry Division, the Sweetwater County Extension Office, and the Green River Tree Board.

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