Winter has settled across the landscape. Trees stand bare and the perennials have all gone dormant. The last thing on your mind is watering the garden. However, most plants still benefit from a good drink now and then throughout the winter months.
While the landscape may look dead in winter, the trees, shrubs, and perennials are very much alive. Even dormant plants continue to use water during the winter months. Many locations throughout the country experience fluctuating temperatures, rising and falling above freezing, with only occasional snow cover. Plants growing under these conditions require supplemental irrigation to prevent winter damage.
Irrigate during prolonged dry spells, once to twice per month, if rainfall is insufficient. Only water when the air temperature is above 40 degrees F and there is no snow cover. Do not water if the ground is frozen, as water will not penetrate the soil. It is best to water mid-day to allow water to soak into the soil before possible freezing temperatures at night.
Evergreen Trees and Shrubs
Plants that stay green all winter long are at greatest risk of drying out over the winter months as the evergreen foliage is exposed to the drying effects of wind. Broadleaved evergreens are particularly prone to this type of damage. Water loss is most severe on windy days or when temporary warm weather causes plants to give off an unusually high amount of moisture.
When water loss occurs at times when the ground is frozen, roots cannot take up moisture to replace lost water. Think about winter watering of evergreens as a protective measure, ensuring soil moisture is available to prevent plants from desiccating. Watering during warm spells or before the ground freezes ensures water is available when needed.
Newly Established Plants
Like evergreens, newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials are more prone to winter damage than established plants. The root systems are less developed and often shallower than more established plantings. Also, many plants continue to actively grow roots even when the canopy is dormant.
Take care to irrigate newly established plants. Pay attention to differences between planting locations. Plants in windy, exposed sites will dry out more quickly, as will those in raised beds. Likewise, plantings in areas receiving reflected heat, such as along south-facing walls, are more susceptible to drying.
Moist soils hold heat which can protect both dormant and evergreen plants during cold snaps. Freeze damage to plant roots is more severe in dry soils. As cold weather approaches, watch weather reports and irrigate all plantings at least 24 hours before hard-freezing weather arrives.
Protect Your Plumbing
Avoid freeze damage to hoses and pipes when watering in winter. Automatic irrigation systems should be winterized. Do not use them for winter watering, as this can lead to costly damage. Instead, use a hose-end sprinkler, watering wand, or watering can. While most outside faucets have a drain to prevent freeze damage, it is important to disconnect hoses from the faucet to allow for proper drainage. Be sure to drain hoses after each use. In colder regions, homeowners may use interior shut-off valves and insulating covers to protect outside water lines and faucets. Be sure to repeat winterizing steps after you finish watering plants.
Start Off Strong
Gardeners can reduce winter stress by ensuring plants receive plenty of water in the autumn months. This is particularly important in locations that remain frozen throughout the winter, where soils need sufficient irrigation before the ground freezes. Also pay extra attention to water needs during March and April, when plants are developing new roots.
Mulching also provides winter protection by reducing water loss from the soil and protecting roots against freeze-thaw cycles. Provide the garden with a protective blanket of mulch after the first hard freeze. Chopped leaves and pine straw make ideal winter mulches as they do not compact as much as wood chips. Use a mulching leaf blower like WORX TRIVAC 3-IN-1 Blower / Mulcher / Yard Vacuum to transform yard waste into a warm winter blanket for the garden.