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

by | Updated: Jan 7, 2022

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

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

Lace up, baby!

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 may be making it harder for yourself to reach the end!

Winter is a marathon for our plants in the intermountain west.

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.

We get drying winds that pull the moisture out of plants.

In states like Colorado, we can get wild temperature swings above and below freezing — like animated 7-year-olds riding up and down on a seesaw.

Our plants in southern and western exposures can get warm afternoon sunshine… and then the temps drop at night.

As the ground freezes and thaws, it creates cracks in the soil. 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…

You can help your plants pace themselves through this winter marathon.

No quitting by mile 5!

If you’re wondering, “Should I water my garden in the fall and winter?”, yes, it can be a good idea for the majority of plants.

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.

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.

During a dry autumn and winter months…

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!

Water in the middle of the day when it’s warm. Make sure temperatures are above 40 degrees.

Winter watering is different than summer watering. In the summer, it’s best to water in the early morning or late afternoon. Not so in the fall and winter! For the latter, mid-day watering is ideal, so foliage can dry before nightfall and the water can soak into the ground.

What plants should you water in your garden?

Water trees, shrubs and perennials (the flowers that come back every year).

New plants tend to be more vulnerable to winter stress.

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

  • Trees and shrubs, especially those you planted in the last few 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 water) that have been growing in your garden for a season or two likely don’t need supplemental water.

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 on the other side.

Our Western Slope of Colorado can get a rain shadow effect from Utah.

And other parts of the intermountain west can experience this effect too.

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 details on how to water your trees.

And for related topics, check out:

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Hey there, I'm Ann

I’m a Certified Colorado Gardener, dog mama and Midwesterner-turned-Colorado girl. I help budding gardeners in the intermountain west skip the “Why didn’t anyone tell me that phase?”, so they can get pretty results faster. More about Ann >>

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