Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Soil moisture issues…
by Michael Johnson
Oct 18, 2012 | 1599 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Soil moisture concerns are an ongoing issue in gardening, and with the lack of appreciable moisture in Grand and San Juan counties last winter, this summer and now into the fall, the problem has not lessened. Every year including this one, I speak with what seems to be a never-ending stream of individuals who are having plant problems that can be traced back to soil moisture issues.

Obviously, soil moisture is critical to both the quality of plant materials in a landscape and to plant longevity. Most of the plants in the landscape could be relatively easily replaced – although the monetary cost may be a significant factor – since growing them to maturity usually doesn’t require an extended period of time.

However, my concern continues to be the potential for increased tree damage. Replacing a tree is more costly and obtaining good mature growth is a long-term process. Tree damage due to water stress is most often seen in premature leaf drop, branches dying back, and borer problems, but there could be an increase in trees dying if we don’t get some good winter moisture. I base this concern on what I have seen here in Grand County this year and also after a recent consultation in a city south of Grand County where residents have experienced numerous trees dying this summer. This isn’t just a problem for our region – reports have come out recently from other states expressing this same concern.

The moisture content of the soil plays a large part in the productivity of the soil. This moisture content is determined by how well your soil is able to absorb water, how well it stores moisture, how quickly the water is used or lost due to gravitational effects and soil evaporation, and how efficient additional watering is done. Many of our trees already face difficulty growing in our climate with our changing weather patterns and questionable watering practices. But with this past winter’s lack of any appreciable moisture, our deeper soils – soil six-inches-plus in depth – were left dry in many parts of the county. Most plants don’t do well without this deeper moisture and they show signs of stress fairly quickly. Trees, however, don’t usually show stress signs very quickly so people assume their trees are fine until damage occurs that isn’t easily reversible.

For now, my suggestion would be that if it’s possible, don’t cut off your watering too soon this fall. Try to get some extra moisture into the ground and improve that deeper soil moisture so the roots of your plants don’t dry out. Also, as with any winter, if we continue to stay dry don’t hesitate to get out on a good sunny day when the temperatures are above freezing and put some water on your landscape. A rainfall, if it’s not at least one-half inch, while appreciated, really isn’t doing much for the soil moisture.

There was some hopeful good news recently. AccuWeather’s winter forecast for the Four Corners region showed a likelihood of this region getting greater-than-average moisture this winter. But, of course, only time will tell.

As I was finishing up this article on Friday, I saw that we got some moisture Thursday night and it was raining on Friday. So, hopefully, we will see more of that. However, we are still a long way behind, so when you do water, think deep.

Thought for the day: “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” —Les Brown

For more information about these topics call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at

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