Landscape Winter Watering

Magnolia Tree in Winter 2With October over now, we look toward November and December and the snowy, cold, icy weather that comes with it.  Most people believe that once winter weather begins, our plants no longer need any watering.  However, if we are not receiving much natural precipitation and the weather is warm enough to thaw the ground during the day, we do need to supplement water to our plants.

If we consistently have snow cover on our lawns throughout the winter, there is no need to worry about watering our plants.  However, if we don’t see much snow throughout the winter, we need to water our plants.  Some of the plants that are most affected by winter desiccation include maples, lindens, dogwoods, willows, and paper birches.  It is most important to water newly planted trees and shrubs throughout the winter, versus watering all of your older, more established plants.  However, if it is a very dry winter, all of your trees and shrubs would benefit from a watering at least once a month throughout the late fall and winter months.

Tips for Watering in the Winter Months:

  • Water only when the temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above
  • Water during the middle of the day to allow all of the water to soak in prior to freezing at night
  • Water with a hose or a watering can or bucket, do not use your irrigation system in the winter or you will have to drain the pipes again and you have more of a chance to break the pipes due to freezing.

We also need to do other things to protect our plants during the winter.  We need to make sure we cover around the base of our trees and shrubs with a layer of mulch.  This layer should only be 3 inches deep, any deeper than that and you can acquire problems with mice and voles getting into that layer and causing damage to your trees and shrubs.  Remember that plants with a hollow stem should not be pruned back until the early spring rather than in the fall.  This includes butterfly bush and many of our roses.  If these are pruned back in the fall, they could get moisture into those hollow stems and freeze and thaw throughout the winter which could crack the crown and kill the plant.

tree wrappingYou may also want to wrap the trunk of young, thin barked trees.  Sunscald is a problem that occurs when the tree gets too warm on the south and west sides of the trunk in the winter.  The cells on the sunny side of the trunk warm up and begin to become active in the winter and then freeze in the evening.  This problem can cause a canker to develop on the trunk of the tree.  Sunscald can easily be prevented by wrapping those thin barked, young trees during the winter with the white tree wrap to keep it cooler and shaded on those warmer, sunny days in the winter.

Photo by Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension

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