Fall/Winter Watering

equinecpa(4)November 27, 2012

I live in Bailey and am trying to figure out how often to water perennials through the winter.

Strawberries for example-I have one strawberry pot and a few plants in the ground-all mulched. Do I water them throughout the winter-even when frozen?

How about herbs like lavender, sage, chives etc-should I be watering them right through the winter? I imagine when they have snow cover they don't need water but until then?

Thanks-this is my first CO winter....


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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Equine/Carolyn,

If we're not getting precip, yes, you will probably need to water them a couple times over the winter. Just depends on the winter, and this winter is definitely not off to a drippy start! Being out in Bailey you should at least get more snow than we do down here in the lowlands!

You'll need to figure out if they need water by how dry the soil is. Assuming it's not snow covered, if it's been sunny for a couple day you should be able to find a spot where it's thawed enough to stick something in a couple inches to check it out.

Were the plants deeply watered before it started to get really cold out, like within the last few weeks? If they started out wet they should last for a long time since dormant plants use very little water. All you basically need to do is keep it wet enough that the roots don't dry out all the way. If they weren't well watered in "fall" and the soil is looking/feeling dry I'd recommend you give them a deep soaking on one of the upcoming nice days. Don't just go over them with a hand-held hose, that just wets the top couple inches and doesn't do much good down at the level where the roots actually are. Use a little sprinkler that puts the water down slowly and then leave it run for a half an hour--or more. With a really deep soaking now they'll probably be good for most of the rest of the winter until it starts to consistently warm up again in spring--especially if you're getting any snow at all--which you're far more likely to get out there than we are down here.

The plants you mentioned, the herbs, can all go quite dry and still be just fine--even in summer, so easier to take care of over winter than some other things that like it a little wetter. The strawberries in the ground will like it a little bit wetter, so check them at least once a month just to be sure.

If you decide something needs to be watered, water them deeply, as described above, rather than just "hosing" over the top of them. And, yes, even if the ground is frozen you can still water. If it is frozen and it doesn't look like it's gonna thaw anytime soon, but the soil is clearly very dry, water early in the day (on a sunny day preferably) and, again, do it with a little sprinkler that will put the water down slowly enough for it to actually soak in and not just all run off the top. There are always air pockets in the soil--the plants would all die if there wasn't--and if the water is applied slowly enough it will find its way down thru those air pockets even when it's frozen. Doing it early in the day gives it time to disperse into the soil before it freezes solidly in "lumps" overnight. And if they're covered by snow they'll be fine even if they're very dry--but they'll do better if the soil is moist when they get dumped on! Keep in mind that sometimes our snow out here is VERY dry and doesn't really provide much moisture, and a lot of it evaporates as it melts rather than actually soaking into the ground. Our high altitude sun does things that wouldn't happen in a lot of other places where there's more humidity, less WIND, and the sun isn't as "hot!" So even if it "seems" you've had a lot of snow/moisture, still check the actual soil from time to time.

The strawberry POT is a different story. Being above ground that will dry out more quickly than the soil in the ground, so you'll need to keep an eye on that pretty frequently to be sure it's not drying completely. But I'm never sure what to recommend about watering in a clay pot (it is clay, isn't it?), because if you get too much water in there just before it freezes the expansion could crack the pot! So it's still a good idea to soak it pretty well when you do it, but try to do it way early in the day when it's nice and warm out so it will have plenty of time to adequately drain off before it possibly freezes. Or if you just soaked it and it's suddenly gonna get really cold out, maybe throw a couple heavy blankets over it for a couple nites till the moisture lessens some. Clay pots with live plants over winter can be a problem--even plastic ones can conceivably split if there's enough water in the soil. As with the stuff in the ground, they won't be using much water over winter so if you water it well when you do water it, you shouldn't need to do it "too" often. But don't let the soil/roots dry completely. If you wind up with a spot that's gonna have snow all winter and you can time it right, when the soil in the pot is moist stick it in the place where it's gonna get buried in snow and just leave it there all winter! That would be the best and the easiest way to take care of the pot in my opinion!

Hope that helps. If something doesn't make sense, let me know.

Welcome to Colorado-----and welcome to RMG! Hope to see you around here fairly often.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 1:36PM
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Water only when the temperature is above 40 degrees F. so the water doesn't freeze before reaching the plant roots. CSU Extension has a good fact sheet on Fall and Winter Watering. I've included the link.
As for the strawberry pot, if it's clay, you'll need to water it a lot. Give it the 2nd Knuckle Test. Stick your index finger into the soil down to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, water the plant. If you feel moisture, wait till the soil dries before watering again.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fall and Winter Watering

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 6:34PM
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