Gardening: Trees need water to battle winter weather

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

When the temperatures drop into the 40s and Jack Frost arrives, most folks no longer think about watering their gardens.

Homeowners who depend on landscaping companies to care for their irrigation systems don’t have a choice as to when they are turned off for the winter. It’s not just a matter of turning a switch to shutting off the main valve, the water lines need to be drained or blown out using an air compressor. And, this all takes time so customers need to be plugged into a schedule so they are all taken care of before the ground freezes.

This is where a good long hose comes in handy. Keeping trees, shrubs and perennials well-watered going into winter is key to the health and survival of the plants.

Many areas in southeastern Michigan have had little rainfall the past several weeks and the soil is dry. Remember, the soil under trees dries out very quickly so the ground may be moist in the middle of a yard and almost bone dry in a wooded area.

If you’re planting trees and shrubs this fall, giving the planting site and the area around it a good watering two or three days before the installation will get these new introductions off to a good start. If the soil is dry around the planting site it will quickly wick moisture away from the new root ball. After planting, if it doesn’t rain be sure to water the new plants every couple of days for the first month or so.

Mulching gardens and landscapes with 3 to 4 inches of organic material now will help hold moisture in the soil over the winter. Weather forecasters are telling us do to a strong El Nino, Michigan may get less than the normal amount snow this winter. That may make drivers happy, but a good snow layer protects the soil and helps to keep it from drying out.

For more information on Michigan’s winter weather forecast Google the following website:

Timely tip: Some perennials are slow to break dormancy in spring so to protect them from an inexperienced assistant or a lapse in memory, mark their spot before the ground freezes. Tongue depressors, available at craft stores, are inexpensive and large enough to write on. A lead pencil will last the winter and be readable in spring.

Here are some of the late risers you might consider marking: Members of the milkweed family (Asclepias), false indigo ( Baptisia), Japanese painted fern (Anthyirum), balloon flower ( Platycodon) and hardy hibiscus.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at