You Gotta Water in Winter!

By Paul James

Although it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, it’s crucial that you water landscape plants during the winter months. The combination of dry soil and cold air temperatures can be especially tough on even the hardiest plants, both deciduous and evergreen. So keep these basic watering tips in mind.

First, realize that I’m not suggesting you water all that often during the winter months. Typically once a month will do the trick, although if it’s bone dry in December and January you may need to water twice a month. Pick a day when the temperature is above freezing and the overnight low is forecasted to be above freezing as well. Those conditions happen more often than you might imagine, and on those days you should seize the opportunity.

Deep soak each time you water, but avoid watering the base of trees and shrubs, because if water freezes around the trunk it can damage the bark. Instead water halfway between the plant and just beyond the outer stretch of branches (also known as the “drip Line”).

Evergreens and conifers need more water than their deciduous counterparts because they continue to grow, albeit ever so slowly, during the winter. And many of them, including azaleas, arborvitaes, pines, spruces, junipers, Euonymus, and Oregon grape have shallow roots and are therefore more susceptible to drying out. But even deciduous plants need water in the winter to prevent their roots from becoming desiccated.

The same is true of cool-season turf grasses such as fescue and rye, both of which continue to grow in winter.

Dormant perennials should be watered as well to keep their roots hydrated. And spring-flowering bulbs, which store lots of water in advance of blooming, absolutely must be watered during dry winters.

Of course, if we get plenty of rain this winter you can skip watering altogether, but the extended forecast looks pretty dry. And November was one of the driest on record. This weekend, however, looks beautiful. And you can bet I’m going to water.