#ProPlantTips for Care: The Importance of Winter Watering!

#ProPlantTips for Care: The Importance of Winter Watering!

Title Image for Winter Watering Blog

Gardening doesn't end with summer's warmth! Your landscape still needs your attention even when the temperatures drop. So while you're dreaming of spring, don't forget an important part of garden maintenance even when the temperatures drop and plants are sleeping.

Usually, Mother Nature provides everything your garden needs. Once winter's snows arrive, that white blanket provides moisture and insulation. For gardeners in areas where the ground freezes all winter and can enjoy snow cover all winter - watering may not be necessary. However, it shouldn't be far from your mind either.

Sometimes there's no white Christmas, and plants are left gasping, even when dormant. Unexpected warm spells add to the troublesome temperamental nature of Ma Nature in the winter months!

Winter Watering - Why it's Important:

Dormant plants may not be growing above ground, but new root formation continues below throughout Autumn and even during mild winters. The fall is excellent for initiating new roots and getting your plants a jump start on spring.

Keeping up with watering in winter is important for:

  • Newly installed plant material their first year in the ground
  • Lighter, sandier soils
  • When growing in more arid climates
  • Experienced drought or dry conditions before winter
  • Higher elevations


For Evergreens, remember these plants transpire water when temperatures are above freezing, losing moisture through the foliage, with no soil moisture to replace it with. So it's important for you to provide it to keep your plants healthy year-round!

Timing is Everything

Fall and winter watering should be done if the ground is dry and not frozen. Without moisture at the root zone, plants suffer. If it's been dry and unseasonably warm and you know a freeze is on the way… water!

Water plants any time in the winter when:

  • There's no snow cover
  • Temperatures are above freezing for a time
  • There's been no rainfall or snowfall for a week
  • Been less than 2" of rain or snow for a week or two
  • New plants that were installed that fall
  • Evergreen trees that constantly receive the brunt of the cold, dry northern winter winds

Your plants eventually use less water when dormant, so depending upon your soil type and these other factors above, watering may only be needed once a month.

winter watering info graphic

Best Watering Practices

Example of the finger test with a finger in the dirt up to the second knuckle

Hook up your hose and water at the root zone only, soaking it thoroughly. Simply run the hose open about half speed soaking the entire root system, letting the water soak in deep.

Often it's recommended to turn off the water once it has pooled, let it soak in, and then water until it pools once more, and then repeat a couple more times until the entire area is fully saturated but not waterlogged. You can find out more about proper watering practices and Finger Test watering in our Garden Blog.

Winter Windburn - The Arch-Nemesis of Evergreens

Windburn (aka: sunburn/winter burn) occurs on Evergreens and on Broadleaved Evergreens when they dry out in winter or are planted where they are exposed to cold drying wind. The effects may not show up immediately; it may take until spring for the discoloration to show up with brown or damaged foliage on one side of the plant.

image of a pinecone hanging from a tree branch

Any tree or shrub that's high on a hilltop, exposed to constant wind (windbreaks and shelterbelts), or located in exposed areas with no protection is susceptible.

Making sure the soil is moist before it freezes in fall, not letting them go into winter dry, is the first step in averting damage. If your plants or your location are particularly susceptible, you can use an anti-desiccant - a spray that coats the foliage and keeps them from drying out - preventing windburn.

Frost Crack - The Arch-Nemesis of Deciduous Plants

Often affecting Hardwood trees, Frost Crack occurs when the inner and outer tissues in the trunk expand and contract at different rates when subjected to drastic temperatures changes.

Beautiful red and yellow tree in the fall

After a sunny, unseasonably warm day and the temperatures drop to freezing at night, cracks are caused by moisture rapidly expanding within the tree's xylem and phloem, causing a split to occur the length of the trunk.

Frost Crack Affects Trees that Are:

  • Situated in open, exposed, isolated & in full sun exposures.
  • Tree planted in heavy clay & soggy soils
  • Been severely pruned
  • Improper fertilizer timing when late growth hasn't "hardened off"
  • Recovering from summer drought followed by excessive water in the fall


Prevent frost crack in deciduous trees by not overwatering and leaving tree roots in soggy soil before a significant freeze. Stop fertilizer in July so new growth has had time to be ready for the cold and don't prune too severely whenever possible.

There are tree trunk wraps available that are white or light-colored, reflecting the bright sun and help prevent frost crack from occurring. Do not use black drain tile or black or dark-colored trunk protectors as they heat up until the sun drops and creates cracking.

While Frost Crack doesn't spell instant death, it does mar your tree and can lead to future issues if not healed or treated by an Arborist. Insects and diseases can enter the tree's insides easily through these cracks if left untreated.

Last But Not Least:

Holly bush covered in snow

When you are done watering, you will need to drain your hose and turn off the faucet in your basement to prevent costly damage. Never use your underground sprinklers or drip irrigation in winter. You also should have mulched your plants for the winter.

Just a small amount of forethought and effort ensures your tree and shrub's survivability during the toughest parts of the season. With some adequate moisture, you will be able to help your plants through the bleak winter months for a colorful spring!

Let NatureHills.com help you plan your garden, even in the bleak winter months, and help keep your landscape looking its best all year long!

Learn about the Top 5 Winter Interest Plants, so your winter garden is just as beautiful as the rest of the year!

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