JoAnne Skelly: Water, water everywhere
I’m getting pretty tired of fighting water and snow. Yes, the water is great to restore groundwater and reservoirs. Yes, it’s great for the trees. Yes, snowpack is essential for future water storage. But battling a rising creek with sandbags and pumping out 12 inches of water from under the house while the wind is blowing 75 mph (that’s only a slight exaggeration!), isn’t my idea of fun. We’re better off than a lot of people though, so I count our blessings. However, another atmospheric river is due this week.
Every year about this time I remind people trees and shrubs need water at least once a month through the winter. While we’re only a month into winter, we have already received almost our annual precipitation of 10 or so inches. I think our trees will be fine for a couple of months, unless we get a heat wave.
The ease of water movement in the soil is called hydraulic conductivity and varies with the texture of the soil among other factors, including whether the soil is frozen. Our property has coarse textured sandy soil with large pores and usually drains quickly. In fact, it’s rare to have any standing water, no matter how much I irrigate.
However, even our soil couldn’t drain rapidly enough to keep up with the amount of rain. We had standing water in many spots, until there was a break in the storms. My poor apple trees, that don’t like wet feet, had 3-inch deep puddles around them for almost a day. I hope their roots aren’t damaged from standing in water too long. Damaged roots mean less root mass for a plant to pull water out of the soil leading to drought stress later in summer. I also hope their trunks aren’t injured, perhaps allowing disease organisms to infect the trees in the spring.
Clay soils are extremely challenging under wet conditions. The process of water entering the soil surface is called infiltration. Water doesn’t infiltrate through the fine-textured soil pores easily under normal circumstances and under these recent extreme inputs, there may be standing water for a long time.
If you have water-holding wells around your trees and shrubs, whether the soil is sandy or clayey, you may want to break the sides of the wells down to reduce or eliminate standing water at the trunks of trees.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at email@example.com.