Editor’s note: This column has been updated to correct the definition of measurable snowfall and correct that this year’s first measurable snowfall in Boulder was Nov. 17, tying the 2016 record.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the latest first measurable snowfall (0.1 inches) in Boulder was Nov. 26, 1910. (Although the records prior to 1948 are suspect.) The latest first snowfall since 1948 (considered to be more accurate) is Nov. 17, 2016.
That 2016 record was tied this year, when 0.3 inches fell Nov. 17. Still, it’s been quite a dry winter season thus far.
On average Boulder receives 18 inches of precipitation per year. While Boulder has received 20.2 inches of precipitation, thanks to a very wet spring, since August Boulder has received only 1.4 inches when we normally receive 2 to 5 inches.
Since Aug. 25, Boulder County is considered to be in severe drought. According to the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA, due to a la Nina weather pattern, the drought will continue at least through the winter into February.
So, what does this mean for the average homeowner or landowner? We need to be planning how we can help plants survive the drought conditions while conserving water. Here are some suggestions to help your plants survive a drought:
A long-term project to make your landscape more drought-resistant is to utilize native plants in your landscape. As you need to replace plants or decide to make changes, consider using native plants as opposed to more water-intensive nonnative plants. Native plants are adapted to our drastic changes in precipitation and have learned how to survive under drought conditions. Native plants can be as attractive as introduced plants and also provide habitat for native pollinators.
Another technique to preserve moisture is using mulches. They slow down the evaporation of soil moisture, keeping it available to plant roots. Place 2 to 4 inches of mulch around plants but not directly in contact with the trunk or stems. Having mulch up next to the trunk can lead to insect, wildlife or disease problems.
Water at least your newly planted young trees, shrubs and perennials once or twice a month if we don’t receive significant precipitation. Check the soil before watering to make sure you need to water. Once trees are established, they don’t need watering as often as they have large established root systems.
Water when the air temperature is 40 degrees or higher and the soil is not frozen. Apply the water midday to allow the water to soak into the soil. Make sure you don’t water trees and shrubs at the trunk or branch base as roots go out 2 to 3 times past the outermost branches, so you’ll miss getting water to most of the root system. Use a sprinkler to water a larger area around the plant to get water to more of the root system.
For those who own larger acreages and might have grazing animals, you’ll need to reduce winter grazing in order to preserve more stubble in your grasses. Grasses not only store energy in their root systems, but they also store a good portion of their energy in the lower portion of their stems.
This energy is critical for the plants’ survival and to start growing the next year. Grazing plants down to the ground removes all this energy, may damage next year’s buds and stresses the plants when they start growing in the spring.
Even if we get precipitation in the spring, it may not be sufficient for plant growth and to replace depleted soil moisture, so the plants continue to be stressed. Stressed plants, like humans, are not healthy and over time may produce less forage. Limit grazing times to short exercise times (30 minutes) for horses and expect to feed more hay. Preserving your forage plant health speeds recovery when we do receive precipitation.
A little planning, watering and grazing restraint can help plants survive drought.
Sharon Bokan is the small acreage coordinator for Colorado State University Extension Boulder County in Longmont.
NOAA drought resources can be found at drought.gov/.