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Perennials and Native Shrubs Frozen with Winter Cold

Winter Watering In The Garden: When & Why

By David Salman, High Country Gardens Founder

Colder zone ecosystems rely on winter snowfall as a crucial part of their yearly water supply. However, when the weather seems a bit uncooperative in the precipitation department, and there are higher than normal daytime temperatures, your garden may be in need of some healthy watering.

So what is healthy winter watering? Remember these basic tips to keep your lawn and garden healthy. With winter watering during dry conditions, your plants will amply reward you for your kindness come springtime.

7 Tips For Winter Watering


1. General Watering Timeline: If you haven't received precipitation in winter, it's crucial to water your plants. With dry weather, once a month winter watering is suggested. If the dry weather continues, you may need to go to twice-monthly watering. Write a reminder on your calendar to water. Keep an eye on the skies.

2. Water Above Freezing: Water only when the air temperature is above freezing. You'll want to apply water early in the day so that it will have time to soak in before nighttime freezing. Avoid ice damage - if water stands around the base of a tree, it can freeze and damage the bark. Heavy coatings of ice on turfgrasses can cause suffocation or result in matting of the grass.

3. Don't Forget Your Lawn: Lawn grasses are prone to winter damage, especially newly planted sod and seeded lawns. To help protect plant roots, do not mow your lawn shorter than 4" before winter. Pay particular attention to turf on southern exposures.

4. Watering Evergreens: As a rule of thumb, evergreen trees need more water than deciduous ones. Any plant with shallow root systems, such as pine, spruce, non-native juniper, Euonymous,  and Oregon grape will be more susceptible to winter damage.

5. Watering Woody Plants: When watering woody plants that have been planted in the last two seasons, the most important area to water is the distance from halfway between the plant and the outer stretch of the branches to approximately one foot beyond the "drip line" of branch extremities. This also prevents water from building up near the trunk of the plant.

6. Watering With A Purpose: The purpose of winter watering is not to provide water for the plant to draw up its stem—rather, to provide water to prevent the roots from desiccating in the cold dry ground. It can be hard to remember to water when you don't have a wilting plant as a visual clue. Write a reminder every three weeks on your calendar.

7. Watering Bulbs: Remember to water newly planted bulbs as well. By nature, a bulb stores a lot of water, which aids in its production of spring blooms. Bulbs left unwatered over the winter will not have the ability to sprout in the spring.

Learn More: For more tips on planting and garden maintenance, visit our in-depth High Country Gardens Planting Guide!

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