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Winter Watering by Mary Smith, Clear Creek County Master Gardener Apprentice



We’ve enjoyed a glorious, warm fall.  Summer vegetable gardens are harvested, spring bulbs planted, perhaps you even took the time to carry in your flowering containers over the few cold nights knowing that the weather forecast included a return to above-normal temperatures for the season.  And now what?  With minimal precipitation this fall-do you wonder how we got through October in the mountains without a good snowfall? - Remember to water this winter! 

Leaf scorch
Of course, here in the mountains we can’t always go by the advice that we hear from weather forecasters or other gardeners that live down in the metro area.  Our micro-climates, snow drifts and winds take a toll on our plantings that differ from the milder temps that Denver may enjoy. 

Above 40 degrees
Winter watering is recommended from October through March (put a reminder on your calendar/app each month), and under most conditions can be done only once a month.  To off-set drought conditions, leaf scorch (common in aspens) and root die-off, winter watering is essential.   When the temperature is above 40 degrees, the soil is dry to the touch, your soil is not frozen solid (if you can insert a thin screwdriver, or similar tool, to a depth of over 2”) and we experience a dry spell of three-four weeks, water!    Water mid-morning so that the air and soil temperatures allow the water to seep into the ground – you do not want the water to remain on the surface or freeze!   When you’re watering trees, water within the dripline surrounding the tree trunk.  When watering shrubs or other perennials, water the ground-not the branches or leaves to prevent the limbs from freezing and breakage.  Don’t forget your containers and bulbs; these too follow the monthly watering cycle if the temps are right and the soil is not frozen!  If there is snow, ice or the soil is moist (stick your finger in 1” or approximately just past the first knuckle, removing the mulch first) you do not need to water in those areas.

2 gallon watering can
Newly planted trees need 10 gallons of water per caliper of trunk, small shrubs (under 3’) need 5 gallons.  You may want to divide the watering needs twice over the course of the month.  Rocks and cracks allow the soil to dry out more quickly so monitor the areas where you have planted ground covers or other herbaceous perennials too.   You probably have put away your garden hoses and sprinklers, no worries, use your watering can (most are 2 gallons).  This allows you a more precise method of measure and less hassle.


Tending to your garden over winter may inspire you for new plants next spring.  Your attention will be drawn more to climate and conditions to help you select the appropriate plants, rather than distracted by the colors of summer!  Keep a record of your winter efforts and your inspirations in your garden journal.


Note: This article applies only to mountain gardeners with outdoor water rights.

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