Watering Plants Properly in Cold Winter Weather


Gardening Advice

Watering Plants Properly in Cold Winter Weather

When the weather outside is dreadfully cold, and snow has replaced your green grass, many gardeners wonder if they should continue to water their plants.

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss



There is an emptiness on the surface of the landscape. The days are colder, the nights are longer, and another fun-filled summer is a distant memory. The wind grazes the ground, dragging flurries of freezing rain and snow with it. The world as you knew it has vanished. Your surroundings have entered a state of dormancy set to last for months. Yet plants and trees will still get parched during extended dry periods amid this moisture.





There is stillness now, and your memories of certain things like mistletoe and cranberries, turkeys, pies, and puddings - and punch, all start vanishing. Suddenly you realize winter has arrived in full force. A lover of cold weather and snow – or not, you are ready as you’ll ever be. 


A white blanket of sparkly snow may be aesthetically arresting, but the winter storm that brings it can be hostile to your trees, scrubs, and gardens.



Colder zones rely on winter snowfall as a fundamental part of their yearly water supply. In many parts of the U.S., winter watering is a good idea, especially if you have young plants that were just introduced during the previous season. Watering plants during these chilly months is a necessary obligation for most gardens.

When the weather turns uncooperative in the precipitation department, and there are higher-than-normal daytime temperatures, your garden may need a dousing of H2O. 


Prevent Water Shortages | Adopt a Watering Timeline

When rainfall in winter is scarce in your neck of the woods, it's imperative to water your plants and trees regularly. With dry weather, once-a-month watering is advised. If the dry weather persists, you may need to resort to a twice-a-month watering schedule. Post a reminder on your calendar and keep an eye on the goings-on in the skies.

The purpose of winter watering is not to provide moisture for the plant to draw up its stem. Instead, you give water to prevent the roots from getting dehydrated and shriveling up in the cold, dry ground. Wilting plants above ground usually are your visual clue to the need for watering. Again, write a reminder note on your calendar.




Plants, Trees, and Shrubs that remain dehydrated in Winter often don't Survive until Spring

While water usage in deciduous trees (such as maple or oak) drops during the winter, it never completely stops. In contrast, evergreen trees transpire more water in the winter, making them prone to winter drying.

Suppose your evergreen trees, such as cherry laurel or rhododendron, turn brown in the colder months. In that case, many inexperienced gardeners assume they have frozen. In fact, they do not survive the cold season because they dry up.

Woody plants with shallow root systems such as dogwoods, willows, European white, and paper birches are sensitive to drought injury. They require additional watering during extended dry periods.



Why must Plants be Watered in Winter?

If your region is prone to drying winds, extra watering is vital. Although your plants are in dormancy, they're not dead and still have some essential metabolic functions that must be driven by water drawn from the soil.

Dry roots in the winter can cause permanent damage to perennials. The idea of watering plants in near-freezing temperatures often sends countless gardeners into a frenzy, worrying that the freshly wet soil will freeze and injure roots.

It's better to water early in the day as this gives your plants protection against nighttime freezes. The moisture in the soil acts as a container for heat. This helps keep the area around your plant stay a bit warmer than the air as the darkness of night approaches. Insulated covers provide additional warmth and will shelter your plants from injury.

While evergreen plants develop a protective mechanism in frigid weather and can even cope superbly amid snow, experts recommend watering them occasionally in decent winter weather.


When the sun shines, plants evaporate water through their leaves but will get no replenishment from ground that is largely frozen. Leaves of plants found curled up are essentially blocking the sun by offering as small a surface as possible. This is a sign there is too little moisture in the soil.




Crocus, a genus of seasonal flowering plants in the family Iridaceae (iris family) comprising about 100 species of perennials.




Frost-free days are ideal for watering. The soil is softer, and the water can easily reach the roots. This is especially true for plants in pots, beds, and containers. But don't give your potted plants too much water. Unexpected freezing at night while the soil is waterlogged will threaten to destroy the bucket and your prized flowers and plants.

Of course, winter watering will be very different from your usual summer and fall watering. Trees, shrubs, flowers, and plants will need watering less frequently, and the time of day to quench their thirst will also be different.

During late fall and winter, only water when the temperatures are above 40 degrees F. Water during mid-day so the soaking can penetrate the ground.


The best advice is to keep an eye on your weather conditions and be sure to water during extended dry periods. A good, deep watering with moisture reaching at least a foot down into the soil is much better than several light sprinklings.






Additional reading on Gardening:

Finding Yourself by Growing a Winter Vegetable Garden

It is possible to plant and grow many seeds during the winter. Certain vegetables and winter flowers are perfectly cold-hardy and will thrive in lower temperatures and snowy conditions.









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