Print this page

Watering During a Dry Winter

Question:

We are in a moderate drought this winter; do I need to water my trees, shrubs or other plants that are now dormant? I've never watered outside plants in the winter!

Answer:

Although watering outdoors in the winter is not necessarily my idea of a good time, it is important to be aware of the precipitation during this season and how it is affecting your landscape. During winter drought conditions can occur and dormant plants still transpire moisture, although at a slower rate than when temperatures are warm. Tree, shrub, perennial and turf root systems may be damaged if not given supplemental irrigation during times of low rainfall. At risk are plants that have recently been planted, evergreens, shallow rooted species and any that may be in a micro-climate where they receive reflected heat from buildings, walls or fences in southern or western exposures or in a windy site where the drying of the soil can be accelerated. Even bulbs will need water if they are to sprout in the spring.

Plants that have suffered from winter drought may appear normal and even resume growth in the spring because they have a reserve of food energy to keep them going for a short time. The real damage occurs in the roots and as the temperature rise the plant will weaken and possibly die.

Monitor the weather conditions, the precipitation (including snowfall in areas that rely on winter snowfall as a crucial part of their yearly water supply), and the condition of your soil. If necessary, water deeply once every 3 to 6 weeks depending on how fast the soil dries out. Try for a depth of 12 – 24 inches depending on what type of plants you are watering. Water only when the air temperature is above 40 degrees and around the middle of the day so that it can soak in before freezing night temperatures. Never water when the ground is frozen. The purpose is to provide for the roots to prevent desiccation in cold, dry ground by keeping moist conditions. Do not saturate the soil. Even if there is adequate precipitation it's a good idea to watch the areas close to the house foundation or under the eaves. These spots generally receive little or no rain and lose more moisture because of their proximity to the heated structure.

One final point, be sure to disconnect and drain all hoses after use.