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Stayin’ Alive

by | February 27th, 2014

A BackCountry primer to winter-proofing your landscape.

Thankfully, Colorado winters give us a nice, long break from weeding or mowing. But that doesn’t mean we get off scot-free in the landscape department.

Colorado winters can be a tough on non-indigenous plants — which is what we typically grow in our yards. Our climate’s whiplash changes in temperature can be especially harmful. As can our not-infrequent dry spells. For those of you who recently moved to our beautiful state, Colorado is considered a high plains desert area. So, because our landscaping choices (thankfully) venture far afield from hardy, but not-very-flashy natives like sagebrush and sandcherry, we need to provide a fair amount of care for them all year around.

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Watering plants

Winter watering is vital to the longevity of our plants. Keep in mind that it takes one foot of snow to give one inch of water to turf and plants. And much of the water that comes from snowmelt will never even make it to the soil in your yard. As it melts, it flows off of the landscape and downstream into our ponds, and then offsite. So it’s very important to properly water your grass and plants and to deep root water trees and shrubs during extended periods when we don’t get any snowfall. This is particularly critical when your landscaping is less than three years old. Remember the 1-2-3 rule for plant survival in Colorado:

  1. The first year is survival. Winter watering is very important during the first winter.
  2. The second year is establishment and root growth.
  3. The third year is when you will notice the most top growth.
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Tree trimming

February and March can be a great time to prune your deciduous trees. Without leaves in the way, it’s easier to see what you’re doing. There are few insects and disease spores to infest pruning cuts. And wounds close more rapidly when pruning is done just prior to the emergence of new shoots.

What should you prune? Cut off any crossing branches that might rub and cause bark damage. These scars allow for places for insects and disease to infect your trees. You should also look for branches broken by snow. Prune lower-hanging branches off now so they are not in your way when mowing next summer. If you have fruiting trees such as crabapples, it’s best to leave the trimming of these species to a professional. They often get a disease known as fire blight. If this disease is not identified and pruned off correctly, it can spread through the host tree and onto other trees. Learn the basics of tree pruning here.

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Grass care

If your decorative grasses are looking a bit ragged due to high winds and snow, you can begin to cut them back also. A general rule is to take off two-thirds of the top growth. Also, if you have turf grass in the shady areas around your home, look for white or pink mildew on the blades of grass. This is called “snow mold,” which often happens when snow or leaves remain on the grass for long periods of time. Snow mold can cause unsightly dead patches in your lawn. Catch it early by cleaning off any leaf material and then rake the grass to fluff it and allow air to flow around the grass blades. When you mow for the first time in the spring, cut the grass short, bag your clippings, and dispose of them with your trash.

New to Colorado? The Colorado State University Extension (online and in-person at various county offices) is a truly amazing resource where you can find answers to all your burning questions about everything from choosing water-wise trees to growing tasty tomatoes during our challenging summers.

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