Winter watering using snow.

yamins

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I live in Long Island, NY (zone 7a). This year, I've been wintering my trees in a second-story wooden structure that is enclosed on all four sides, has a sloping roof, is somewhat insulated but has pretty good airflow. It does have electricity, and I've installed a heating system (basically a milk-house heater run on a good low-temp thermostat). I've been keeping the temperature between 36-39F, roughly.

I've been watering using snow. Basically, I just go outside, load up a pail with snow, carry it upstairs, and put a bit of snow in each pot when all the snow melts away and tress seem a bit dry (given the temperatures in the storage structure, this ends up being about once a week). My reasoning is, given the cold temperatures, not much water is needed, and snow is a low-density slow-release form of water. The snow keeps the pots damp, but not sopping. This approach is also more convenient, since I don't have running water in the storage area.

My question: is this a dumb idea? Should I definitely be watering with liquid H2O?

Thanks,
Dan
 

woodguy

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Using snow is a pretty safe way to take care of water needs in the winter.
 

Dav4

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Using snow is great. However, if you are wintering temperate trees (I assume you are since you're using snow to water), maintaining temps in the upper 30's is unnecessary.
 

rockm

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Snow is great.

I'd agree with Dave that keeping temps above freezing is unecessary with deciduous trees. In fact, you may be in for a problem come early spring. Your trees will probably break growth early, too early. I'd let them freeze solid for a while -- like around 30 F until the end of Feb...
 

mcpesq817

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We don't get much snow down here, but I really like using snow to water. It makes watering in winter quarters a lot easier, since the snow usually melts slowly over time. Of course my neighbors probably think I'm crazy bringing shoveled snow into the garage :D
 

yamins

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Thanks for the responses.

About the temperature -- we tend to get periodic warm spells here during winter -- though not this year, yet ;) For this reason, I've been keeping temperatures somewhat above freezing at all times (even during the cold spells), so that the warm/cold cycles wouldn't cause the water in the soil to cycle repeatedly freeze / unfreeze.

My understanding has been that being frozen constantly, or being unfrozen constantly (but still < 40F), is better that the freeze/unfreeze cycles. Is this correct?

But, perhaps I should be keeping temperatures closer to freezing, more like 33-35 than 36-38?

D
 

rockm

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My understanding has been that being frozen constantly, or being unfrozen constantly (but still < 40F), is better that the freeze/unfreeze cycles. Is this correct?


Not really, that's a myth. Trees in the ground are constantly exposed to such cycles with no real problems. The problems are due more to the extreme minimum temperatures the roots are exposed to. The point where intracellular moisture (the water INSIDE a plant cell) freezes is critical. That kind of freezing destroys root tissue.

A rule of thmb is that temps 15 F and below are the most likely to cause tissue damage. This can depend greatly on species. For some it's higher, for others, it's much lower. The temps you're using are kind of warm and you're probably facing early bud break come mid-Feb...

Generally, you want to keep the roots at a temperature that prevents them from growing out too soon but is also warm enough to prevent damage. I tend to err on the colder side, since keeping roots cold in late winter is as important as keeping them "warm" during the deep mid-winter cold.

Soil temps drive root actiivty in the spring. Soil Temps above 40 or even a bit lower can spur a plant to break growth. This is bad if they're inside and start putting out leaves and are forced to stay inside for a another month waiting until freeze and frost danger has passed. That cna weaken them, destory designs with lanky unsightly shoots, etc.

I err on the colder side of storage, keeping roots cold enough to get them through to late March. That means I allow roots to freeze solid for most of the winter under a deep pile of mulch outside. The mulch "lags" temperatures--preventing the coldest in the winter and keeping roots cold during late winter warm ups.
 

yamins

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Rockm, that information is really interesting.

Brent Walston at Evergreen Gardenworks just replied to an email of mine sent earlier, basically echoing exactly what you said. He recommended I keep things in the 28-34 range, so I've sent my thermometer to do that.

One thing that was confusing to me is that this recommendation is slightly different from that described here in one of Brent's oft-cited website articles: http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/frzekill.htm At the bottom, he recommends the 35-50 range, the lower range of which I was originally as a guide. I've now lowered it 5 degrees based on your thoughts and Brent's email -- but I wonder why there's this discrepancy.

Thanks again!
Dan
 

rockm

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It's not really a discrepancy. It is a range of temperatures. The upper range is marginal, as the higher the temp, the bigger the chance for early bud break in most species. He probably recommended the lower end, since you live in a colder area and you want MORE dormancy not less, given that spring is still months away.

The lower range provides more protection, as trees remain inactive for longer.

I don't bring my trees into any shelter during the winters here in Va. I just pile 8 inches of shredded mulch on them on the ground and let them go from Nov. to March--I don't even have to water them, as precipitation mostly takes care of that. The deep mulch protects not only from the deeper winter cold, but from late winter/early spring warm ups.

Most people starting out are very frightened of having the soil in their temperate climate bonsai freeze. It's really not a big deal for most termperate zone species, provided things don't get below 15 F or so for prolonged periods.
 
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