After those early snows some officials whose job it is to measure moisture went on record saying we had made our yearly average, which we haven’t done lately. They appeared to suggest that the moisture total meant we were in good shape. And while we want every bit of moisture we can get, what does that moisture total really mean? From a horticulture point of view, one-half inch of moisture is generally considered the minimum from which our plants receive good benefit. One concern for me is that there are only a few times we received one-half inch or more of moisture this winter. Even adding those times when one-quarter inch of moisture was received, that still is less than one-third of our total moisture events. So, yes, we might have made our average yearly total moisture, but the deeper beneficial moisture events were limited. Also, since the snow has hung around for so long, we here in the valleys have lost more moisture to evaporation than we might normally and so didn’t get all the benefit.
Now, I do realize that limited moisture is part of living in the arid Southwest. It’s not the first time we have seen so many limited moisture events nor is it likely the last. Due to my involvement with gardening issues I see the increased number of plant problems associated with water stress and know that most of our plants are not programmed to get a dose of water and then happily wait weeks or longer until the next one, even in winter.
Some would suggest it would be better to go to total xeric plantings, but our trees and other plants benefit us all, and appropriate additional irrigation is not a waste of water. However, inconsistent moisture – whether natural or supplied from us – leads to plant stress, which can easily lead to the gradual downturn of plants, especially trees since they often don’t show moisture stress until already damaged.
With that in mind, regardless of where we are in the year always think about the amount of time that passes without some type of application of moisture to the soil, and be prepared to supplement as needed according to your own landscape type. And keep track of the amount of moisture you apply each time, not just how often.
All of that being said, the other issue at this time of year concerning gardening is preparing your fruit trees for spring. People often struggle with fruit trees, either by letting them grow out of shape or not being aware of how to correctly water. Both of these are influenced by how much or little you prune your fruit trees. As such, take the time to go out and prune. It doesn’t have to be done all in one day; I usually go out and prune a bit then stop and go back out some days or a week later, taking a few weeks to prune. I do expect to hold a pruning workshop next month in Castle Valley and will advertise that in the papers soon if it’s a go. For those of you wanting some information now, an older but still good publication titled “Pruning the Orchard” can be found at http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/hg_363.pdf.
Thought for the day: “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.