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  • Neils lunceford

Winter Watering for Healthy Spring Growth

Updated: May 20, 2020

High altitude plantings are susceptible to drought injury even in the middle of winter. Summit County's winter climate consists of low-moisture content, high winds, and minimal sunlight. The snow is also very dry, only providing 1" of water per every 12" of snow. This creates the ultimate combination for exposure to winter drought. Winter watering to supplement natural precipitation ensures healthy spring growth and combats drought injury to landscapes. Winter drought injury can sometimes damage parts of the tree or kill the tree. If the injured planting survives, it will then be more susceptible to disease and insect infestations.

Determine if Winter Watering is Necessary:

  • Determine landscape features that are susceptible to winter drought:

    • Young trees (under 3 years) as they haven’t established a strong root system yet

    • Trees with shallow roots: spruce, fir

    • Shrubs with shallow roots: juniper, euonymus, etc.

    • Newly planted seed or sod lawns

  • Test soil moisture:

    • Use a long screwdriver or knitting needle or something similar. If it easily inserts into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8", water isn't necessary. If it DOES NOT, it’s time to water.

  • Spot visual indications of winter drought:

    • Winter drought injury will not be noticeable until spring growth. Leaves and blooms will appear normal and live off food reserves stored in its roots. Once the reserves are depleted, the leaves will die back.

Winter Watering Guidelines:

  • All types of plantings:

    • The time to winter water is with no snow cover and temperatures are above 40°

    • Water in mid-morning so that the moisture has time to soak in before temperatures dip below-freezing

    • Deep, infrequent watering is more beneficial than shallow, frequent watering

    • Add supplemental water every 3 weeks —1 to 2x per month

    • Irrigation systems will be turned off for the winter, so manual watering with hoses, sprinklers, and drip hoses will be necessary.

    • *Bonus Tip: Snow is an excellent soil insulator, so when shoveling decks and walkways, pile snow around trees, shrubs, and perennials that are susceptible to winter drought.

  • Trees:

    • Winter water every 3 weeks with 1" of water — consider the amount of snow we’ve received for the month, then supplement accordingly.

    • Water around the where the tree’s roots are located — the drip line. The drip line mirrors the circumference of the tree canopy on the ground below.

    • **Keep water away from the trunk, frozen trunks could injure the tree. Be especially mindful of this with young or newly planted trees.**

    • **Water slowly so that the moisture can sink in — puddles that turn to ice near the trunk could injure the tree.**

  • Shrubs, perennials, and lawns:

    • Water around the root-ball shrub roots don’t extend out like tree roots do.

    • Water newly planted seed or sod lawns when there is no snow cover.

The extra effort of winter watering will encourage maximum plant growth and your landscape will thrive.

***Don't forget, after watering, disconnect the hose from the spigot as it may freeze and could potentially cause damage to your home.

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