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Maintaining Soil Moisture For Healthy Plants

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One of the joys of horticulture and gardening is it’s a continual learning process. Just when you think you know how a plant is going to react, nature throws a curve ball and the plant doesn’t react as expected.

Here in Colorado, it was thought the best tactic was to cut off water to shrubs and trees in late summer and early fall. Drought stressing plants was supposed to get them to stop growing and set bud for the winter. The flooding rains of September 2013 changed the rules. Some areas received a year’s worth of moisture just when plants should shut down for winter.

Full of moisture, most shrubs and trees turned fall color, lost their leaves and were set for winter. Plants came out of the winter moist and ready to grow. Surprisingly, the abundant water didn’t harm them.

In our region, plants need consistent moisture throughout the year. We get most of our precipitation in the spring. That’s when plants need it most because they are getting ready to grow. 

We need to maintain soil moisture around plants during our dry seasons, too. Moist trees have full leaves which are better able to photosynthesize, creating a healthy plant able to fend off disease and insects.

It is hard to over-water shrubs and trees in our region but it can be done. Shrubs and trees planted in lawn areas are easiest to over-water. When the lawn is watered three to four times weekly, the soil around the woody plant doesn’t dry out. The excess water in the soil pushes out the air, but the plant roots need some air to move plant nutrients. 

A way to prevent over-watering is to plant shrubs and trees in a bed area that is not watered with the lawn. The soil moisture in the bed can be optimized for the plants.  Another option is to plant shrubs and trees high in a lawn area. In some situations a berm can be created to have the plant well above the grass. 

Working with plants is a learning curve. Keeping an open mind as to how different plants react to watering is the first step for a successful garden. 

Tom has been offering garden advice on KUNC for almost two decades. During that time he has been the wholesale sales manager at Ft. Collins Nursery, Inc. Since January of 2005 he has been the owner and operator of Throgmorton Plant Management, LLC., a landscape installation and maintenance company as well as a horticultural consulting firm. He lives in northern Ft. Collins with his wife and two kids.
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