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Winter Watering

The title may appear to be an oxymoron. Why would plants need water in the winter? It’s cold and snowy most of the time. Most being the key word. Everything may be frozen much of the time but when we do have occasional thaws, your plants, especially trees and shrubs would appreciate a drink of water.

Evergreens in particular need water during the winter. Even if you’ve applied anti desiccant, they still need watering on warm winter days. The amount of water the plants reabsorb from transpiration may not meet their needs. They’ll really be able to use any supplemental water you apply.

Don’t forget deciduous plants. They may be dormant, but they aren’t dead. It won’t be practical to water large shade trees. But these trees have survived all these years without your help. However, young, tender trees and shrubs could use a drink. This is especially true for those just planted this last spring or fall.

Plants that overwinter anywhere except in the ground need even more attention. Containerized plants are particularly prone to desiccation. They don’t have as much soil around their roots as in-ground plants, and it’s the soil that holds the water. In addition to watering during thaws, applying anti desiccant and mulching your containerized plants that live outside during the winter will provide an extra layer of water retention protection.

Cold frames do a good job of protecting certain plants from winter winds, but they don’t let natural moisture in. When you put your plants into the cold frame, be sure that they’re well hydrated. The closed cold frame should then act as a terrarium. The water is circulated as the plant roots absorb it from the soil, use it in the process of photosynthesis and then transpire it through the leaves. The cold frame is a closed environment, so the water doesn’t escape into the outside atmosphere. Rather, it’s reabsorbed by the soil and recycled. However, this recycling isn’t 100 percent.

Watering the plants in a cold frame on warm winter days will replenish the water inside the cold frame to assure that the plants will continue to make sufficient food. It’s also recommended that you open the cold frame on warm winter days to give the plants some nice fresh air. I recommend checking the soil moisture when you open the cold frame and add water as necessary and then do the same when you close it up for the night. Be sure to close the cold frame each night to protect the plants from falling temperatures after dark.

Climate changeiscontributing to our more frequent freeze/thaw cycles. Here in our area, we could expect a January thaw and the rest of the winter was bleak and frozen. Today, many winters are becoming milder with just a few real cold spells and even fewer snowstorms. We humans can deal with these changes much easier than our plants can. So, it behooves us to protect our investment by staying vigilant and keeping our young and tender plants sufficiently hydrated to help them cope with their changing environment.

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