Sunday, February 23, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D.


          After thirty-nine days without rain or snow, it’s time to think about a winter watering triage in our gardens.  When trees and plants go dormant for the winter, it doesn’t mean that they can go without water. Their root systems are still growing.  When human beings go dormant with sleep for the night, they still need water.  Indeed, some even set a glass of water next to their bed.  Usually, a winter’s snowpack does the same thing for the garden, but not this year.


          Even though we may get a few snow showers in the next week or so, we are still in a drought, and this means that gardeners have to supply dormant plants and trees, especially the evergreen trees, with water.  If we don’t, they will stress, and, as if with human beings, stress can kill and certainly will make the plants and trees more susceptible to diseases.     


          The signs of stress in human beings are rising blood pressure, heavy breathing, disruptive digestion, increased heart rate, compromised immune system, tensing muscles, and loss of sleep.  The signs of stress in trees are leaves wilting, curling at the edges, and yellowing.  Deciduous trees will show signs of scorching, a browning between the veins of the leaves.  Evergreen needles may turn brown. 


To stay healthy, both human beings and plants and trees need water and rest.  Human beings need to sleep seven to nine hours out of the twenty-four, and many plants and trees need to go dormant during the winter.  So without a snowpack to provide that dormant time water, gardeners have to supply water with dripping hoses.


          In a watering triage, the big trees, especially our evergreens and pines, need to go first because they are the hardest to replace.  A thirty year old ponderosa doesn’t grow over night, nor does that twelve year old blaze maple.  It may take a day or two to get around to all the plants and trees in the yard, but that’s a small price to pay for saving the garden.  For the big ones, it’s best to let it drip in concentric circles around the tree to just beyond the drip line, soaking to a depth of a foot or more.

And if no big snow arrives soon, it’ll be smart to do it again.


          After the big ones have been watered, the next ones that need attention are the most vulnerable, that is the plants and trees that don’t have well-developed root systems, such as the ones that have been planted in the last year or so.  Of course, there are always the fragile favorites that need special attention.


          Some long time gardeners tend to think of their plants and trees the same way they do about their pets.  Both are dependent and well-loved and need protection and care.  Gardeners who water their yards in the middle of winter in the midst of snow shower may appear a little looney, but a little ridicule never hurt anyone when they’re doing the right thing.  As W. Somerset Maughm wrote in The Summing Up “the philistines have replaced the rack with the wisecrack.”


          Stress in human beings weakens the immune system making the people more likely to get sick.  Some people with compromised immune systems never seem to get well.  Drought adversely affects the system by which trees feed themselves by taking energy from the sun.  In a way, it’s a form of slow starvation adversely affecting the trees ability to fight off infestation.  The bark beetle’s destruction is an example.  For both trees and human beings good health enables them to fight infection, and good health requires rest, dormancy, and water.


          Since we live in a drought prone region, we have to pay attention to our trees and bushes all year long, especially their needs for water.  It is a sorrowful thing to see human beings, animals, and plants and trees mistreated, but there is poignancy with trees and plants because they have no voice.  Their suffering is silent if we don’t attend to their needs.  So get out the drip hoses.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith (2014)


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at
















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