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Pickleball and yardwork: Denverites find new ways to celebrate the winter solstice

The city of Denver has 80,000 trees it needs to maintain. And when Mother Nature is not providing, the city has to truck in additional water.

DENVER — Shoveling snow and building snowmen were not exactly options for the first day of winter in the Denver metro area.

Playing pickleball and watering trees are the new ways to celebrate the winter solstice.

"We do water throughout the winter, but maybe not quite so extensive as we have this year," Denver Forestry Operations Manager Ben Rickenbacker said. "Winter's actually a great time to prune trees, so we're not doing as much pruning as we'd normally be doing, but we're doing a lot more watering this year."

The city of Denver has 80,000 trees it needs to maintain. And when Mother Nature is not providing, the city has to truck in additional water.

"We're focusing on the newly planted trees, planted within the last three years," Rickenbacker said. "We're also focusing on conifers, as well, because they tend to get stressed out this time of year with the lack of water."

Denver's parks department had a crew watering trees at Huston Lake Park in southeast Denver on Tuesday morning. The lack of moisture is also what allowed the pickleball games to continue on the tennis courts at the park.

"If the court's wet at all, we don't want to risk getting hurt, so we won't play wet or below 25," pickleballer Barry Stolbof said.

Just outside the court, the trees were absorbing all the wet.

"Don’t just water up against the trunk. You want to look at the entire drip line of that tree, because the roots are basically going to spread out to the extent of the branch or even further," Rickenbacker said.

And these are tips you need to be following at home. Trees in your yard need moisture, even when you have to provide it through the faucet on the side of your home.

"If it shades your entire backyard, you pretty much need to water your entire backyard, not just the trunk of the tree," Rickenbacker said.

He said to water 10 gallons for every one inch of diameter.

"If you got a larger tree that might be 10 inches in diameter, give that thing 100 gallons when you water it," Rickenbacker said.

That might be a little more difficult in Arvada, where the city has watering restrictions because of maintenance being done at Ralston Reservoir.

"We put that in place Oct. 15. We never, in a million years, imagined we'd be talking almost no water between Oct. 15 and now," Arvada Water System Manager Chris Kampmann said.

Residents in Arvada can currently only use drip irrigation or water by hand.

"A typical hose irrigation system is going to give you somewhere around that three-to-five gallons per minute type of flowrate, so in simple math, we're getting to 150 gallons in a half an hour. We're getting to 300 gallons in an hour," Kampmann said. "We don't have a restriction currently on how frequently you can do that."

How do you know if your tree is in need?

"A good way to check and see if your tree is getting really dry is to check your flexibility of your limbs," Arvada City Forester Ian MacDonald said. "A limb that is really rigid or dried out or dead is going to snap really easily."

It could also be quite a while before you know if your watering did any good.

"You actually see the effects of the drought for years to come. So it's not something you're going to see April and May when everything leaves out. It might be something you might not see for a couple years down the road," Rickenbacker said.

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