Mindful Winter Watering

Water usage and preservation in Colorado can be a very dry subject, but little is discussed about landscape watering during the winter months. Mindful winter watering means a shift in thought that changes with the seasons as well as following some basic guidelines that will give your lawn, trees and shrubs a greater chance to not just survive, but thrive.

Healthy plants, during winter dormancy, need continued precipitation to maintain root development and reduce plant stress for the coming spring. Signs of plant stress include slower growth, weakened leaf and bud development or even sections of dead plants altogether. When spring approaches, this stress is not just caused by freezing temperatures or lack of sunlight, but by extended periods of dehydration.

Colorado averages 1.5 – 2.5 inches of precipitation per month during the spring and summer, and the rate drops to a shocking .5 – 1.5 inches during the fall and winter. Be aware that 10 inches of snow is equal to 1 inch of rain. The mindful approach to watering refers to knowing when, where and how much water should be used to give our cherished environment the best chance of survival.

Between the months of November and April, watering once to twice per month is sufficient. Once the night time temperature stays above freezing, you can follow your normal watering schedule. Watering during mid-morning to mid-day is actually preferred and allows the water to soak in thoroughly before freezing overnight. Along with this, the daytime temperature should be above 40*F with the ground being soft, not frozen or snow covered. The most critical months to water are March and April when new root development is forming.

Focus your attention on areas that are affected by high winds, direct sunlight and areas that receive increased reflected light and heat due to the Sun’s southern position. Newly planted lawns, trees shrubs and bulbs should also take priority if water usage becomes a concern. While lawn and turf are the most abundant spaces of our landscape, woody plants, trees and ornamental plants benefit as well. Avoid watering cacti, succulents and xeric plants that have already adapted to our semi-arid climate.

Using a hose and hand nozzle, portable lawn sprinkler or temporary soaker hose give the most control while watering selected sites in your landscape. Avoid using permanent sprinkler irrigation as it may have a chance of being damaged from freezing temperatures.

After each session of supplemental watering, remember to remove the hose from the spigot to prevent freezing and damaging pipes. Watering slowly and concisely is the best method of application and if you are unsure of how much water to use, place a cup, solid pot or bucket under the area being watered until you achieve a depth of .5 to 1” of water.

For further information, fundamental reading or to ask a question about gardening, visit the CSU extension website or contact your local CSU Extension office.