Winter is a time when we think we can abandon the garden and turn to other activities
because it is too cold outside and plants in our gardens are dormant. Although plants do not need much water during the winter that doesn’t mean they don’t need any. During a normal winter, even the majority of locations in the arid western United States receive adequate moisture to keep plants alive over the winter. The problem is when we don’t receive normal moisture plants may die due to lack of adequate water.
Just because the leaves are gone and the lawn has turned a golden shade, doesn’t mean trees and shrubs aren’t consuming water. The roots of dormant plants are still actively metabolizing stored carbohydrate from the previous season’s growth and these metabolic processes require water to continue. Fortunately, plants don’t need as much water during the winter so you won’t have to water as frequently while plants are dormant. The frequency of winter watering will depends on the weather.
Lack of water is one reason for winterkill of plants that would normally be hardy in your area. With the recent drought in the western United States, it is becoming a more common phenomenon. If you will just check your soil moisture regularly in the winter months, the plants don’t have to die. All this involves is watching the weather patterns in your area and going outside with a sharp implement such as a screwdriver and probing the top 6″ of soil to see if it is still moist. With the screwdriver, probe the top 6″ of the soil in a number of areas of the yard. Just checking one spot will not give you an accurate assessment of the soil moisture in your yard because not all areas of the yard dry equally fast.
If the soil in these areas is dried out it’s time to water but before you think about turning the water on to your drip system or activating a permanently installed sprinkler system consider the fact that the next morning’s temperatures are likely to be freezing and water in these irrigation systems could freeze and break them. Winter watering requires methods allows you drain the water from your means of conveying water to the plants store it in a frost-free location are necessary for winter watering. Items that meet these requirements are hoses, soaker hoses, portable sprinklers, and buckets.
Winter watering may seem like a lot of work but that can be reduced dividing your yard into zones and checking it by zones. As mentioned earlier not all areas of the yard dry out at the same rate. Delineate these zones by exposure to the sun and soil type. Western and southern exposures in your yard, if there is nothing to block the intense sunlight or wind, will dry out faster than eastern and northern exposures. Soil texture can also affect how often you will need to water during the winter if you don’t get any precipitation. Sandy soils dry out faster than clay or loam. To reduce the loss of soil moisture over the winter months and moderate temperatures it a good idea to place a leaf or grass mulch over the surface of the garden except on lawns.
We can always hope for a wet winter but if you want your landscape to survive the winter you need to be prepared, observant, and vigilant.