JoAnne Skelly: The adaptable gardener

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

I’m a bit perplexed. I used to advise weaning trees off their summer water routine toward the end of August, so that they could be acclimated and hardened off before the September freezes.
Now, it’s the end of September and I’m just beginning to think about getting plants, particularly trees, ready for the cold. Our weather has been quite warm until recently and trees were still needing a good bit of water. Water weaning seems to be at least a month late as the start of our freezing weather retreats into mid-October.
The logic behind reducing water is to slow growth. We don’t want trees and other plants actively growing as cold weather hits. A freeze will kill that tender, young growth, stressing out the plant.
Plants that are either newly planted or unhealthy are particularly susceptible and their vigor can be negatively impacted for the next growing season.
This is the same reason we don’t fertilize trees and shrubs right now. I’m waiting for the plants to start going into dormancy 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 over winter.
Come spring, I will fertilize again and the plants will thrive.
What else complicates water weaning, is the fact that we are in a drought. The only soil moisture available is what we, as keepers of landscape and garden, provide. I’m hesitant because I don’t want to limit my irrigation too early in order to make sure the trees go into winter having been deeply watered.
On top of figuring out my fall watering schedule, I’m also planning for watering every month through the winter, unless we receive some much-needed precipitation.
But this weather is glorious for fall planting. I decided last spring I wanted more daffodils. I hope to plant dozens. Their bright color always lifts my spirits after the lack of winter color.
Fall is not only the correct time for bulb planting, but is also the best time for planting trees and shrubs. The soil is warm and roots will grow slowly all winter, as long as you keep the soil from drying out. Once it’s spring, the new trees should burst into growth, easily passing spring-planted trees in size and vigor. Be sure to protect the base of the trunk from the critters gnawing on the bark.
Gardening and landscaping are always mystifying. However, we as gardeners are intrepid and ingenious, always adapting to the new challenges.
Joanne Skelly is an associate professor and Extension educator emerita of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email skellyj@unr.edu.

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