A Guide To Winter Watering

Table of Contents

    Have you ever had your plants emerge in spring like normal only to have them decline in late spring or early summer?

    This is a common occurrence when plants don’t get enough moisture over the winter. The root system gets weakened over the winter if no moisture is applied. Then, in the spring, the rapid new growth surpasses the root’s capability to support the plant.

    Trees, shrubs, and turf of both deciduous and evergreen type are prone to damage during dry winters. In most cases a deep watering once or twice a month over the dry parts of winter can substantially save your plants.

    What’s considered dry? It is said that 10 inches of snow much fall to equal one inch of rain. Most plants need 1-2″ of water AKA rain during the winter. That means that if you don’t get 10-20″ of snow in a month, you’ll need to consider watering if the temperatures allow.

    Here’s the key-point to remember when watering over the winter:

    1. Only water when temperatures are above freezing. Apply the water early in the day so that the water soaks in before cooler night temperatures.
      • Did you know that watering during freezing temperatures damages root systems?
    2. Keep water focused on the root system, not the leaves or needles.
    3. Once or twice per month is sufficient for your landscape.
    4. Water at a slow, steady rate to ensure the water saturates the root system. A general rule is to slow the trickle of your hose to the width of a pencil and allow it to slowly run for about 30 minutes per tree.
      • Just set your timer and move the hose every thirty minutes if you have things to do inside.
    5. Be sure to disconnect our hose from the faucet after watering to prevent damage.

    It’s important to note that plantings less than three years old are more susceptible to winter damage because their root systems aren’t fully established. Pay close attention to them.

    One thing to watch is a dry, cold winter. This is a recipe for plant stress because they need water, but you can’t water in freezing temperatures without causing damage. Unfortunately, there’s very little that can be done except always applying thick mulch in the fall to help insulate roots.

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    About The Author

    Robyn is a 2009 Graduate of the Kansas State University Department of Horticulture. She grew up in South East Kansas where she graduated from Humboldt High School. She was a Kansas State University Leadership Scholar and President of the Horticulture Club. She married Bret in 2009 and they have a daughter Ellie, born in 2021. Their family is completed by three adopted dogs.

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