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“Should I Water My Garden in the Fall in Colorado? What About Winter?”

by | Updated: Nov 30, 2022

"Should I water perennials in the fall in Colorado? What about winter watering?"

Imagine that you’re getting ready to run a marathon.

You’ve been training all summer, but in the week leading up to the big race, you get busy. You don’t have time to drink much water or watch what you’re eating.

You’re going to be starting your 26-mile race dehydrated. It’s already a tough race. Now you’re making it harder for yourself to reach the end!

Winter is a marathon for our plants in Colorado.

It’s an endurance test, and it can take its toll on our landscapes. Typically:

  • Most of us don’t get a lot of precipitation during winter in Colorado.
  • We get drying winds that pull the moisture out of plants.
  • We also get wild temperature swings above and below freezing — like animated 7-year-olds riding up and down on a seesaw.

All of this is tough on our plants, particularly in gardens that face south or west.

These plants get warm afternoon sunshine, and then the temperatures drop at night. As the ground freezes and thaws, it creates cracks in the soil, creating little Grand Canyons. This can push our plants’ roots up. Now our plants’ roots are more vulnerable to getting cold and drying out.

And winter can go on, and on, and on.

Our Colorado gardens have to put up with a lot!

So, if you’re wondering, “Should I water my Colorado garden in the fall and winter?”

Yes, it can be a good idea for many plants, especially if you’ve had a dry fall. Hook up a hose and give your plant babies a deep watering. That way, you’re making sure your plants are starting winter well-hydrated. This keeps their roots healthier.

Read on for specific watering tips!

During a dry autumn and during winter…

Water 1-2 times per month if:

  • It’s been windy. Or:
  • You’ve gotten less than 1″ of moisture from rain or snow.

Just as a point of reference, 1″ of rainfall usually works out to to about 12-13″ of snow. So, a dusting of snow — or even a couple of inches — doesn’t add a lot of water for your plants!

Make sure temperatures are above 40 degrees, and water in the middle of the day when it’s warm. Mid-day watering is ideal in the fall and winter, so foliage can dry before nightfall and water can soak into the ground.

Pro tip: Make a note on your calendar when you water. That will help you keep track.

Is it a good idea to water your garden in the fall? If it's been dry, yes. Help your perennials, shrubs and trees start winter well hydrated.

What plants should you water in your Colorado garden?

New plants tend to be more vulnerable to winter stress. However, even waterwise perennials that have been growing in your garden for a number of years can experience winter dieback during drought. (Perennials are your plants that come back each year.)

If you’re pressed for time, focus your watering efforts on your:

  • Trees and shrubs, especially those you planted in the last 2-3 years AND those that keep their leaves or needles over winter
  • Any perennials you planted in the fall
  • Any perennial gardens that face south, west or are exposed to wind

There are exceptions on what to water.

Because Mama Nature makes her own rules, y’all!

Xeric plants (those that need VERY little supplemental water) that have been growing in your garden for a season or two likely don’t need any irrigation from you.

In many parts of Colorado, we had a beautiful, but very dry fall in 2021.

In the Front Range of Colorado, we live in a “rain shadow” of the mountains. This means weather systems lose their moisture on the windward sides and tops of mountains, casting a shadow of dryness onto the Front Range.

The same thing can happen on the Western Slope. If you live in western Colorado, you can get a rain shadow effect from Utah.

So, if you haven’t gotten much moisture or it’s been windy in your garden this fall, pull out the hose to water.

If you’d like specific watering tips…

The Colorado State University Extension has more details on fall and winter watering, including how to water your trees.

And for related topics, check out:

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Hey there, I'm Ann

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