I have a confession to make: I never winter water. Oh no, you must be thinking, how can she not follow all of the gardening guidelines spread across the internet and written in books by many famous gardeners? Well, once again I look to Mother Nature’s teachings when tending to my own wildlife garden. Taking care of the gardens is easier on the gardener when you follow what you see out in natural settings, and most of the time is better for the plants as well. So when it comes to winter watering, I let nature do it for me. Living in a Zone 4a/5b ecosystem has its advantages sometimes. Unlike the south where plants never really die or go dormant, here the ground freezes solid and the plants snuggle in for a nap. Sometimes they have a blanket of snow to snuggle under, and other years the ground is bare and brown. But does bare and brown mean I need to drag a hose around to gardens to “help them out”? I hardly think so.
Gardeners are told that in order to ensure a plant’s survival we must water in winter if there is no snow cover and if the temperatures rise above freezing. I’ve always wondered why, and have tried to find the answer to this question many times. The theory is that the roots will dry out, and the plants will die or suffer. Maybe that is the case, but then wouldn’t most of our natural ecosystems be dead by now? Nobody drags a hose around in nature, yet our national parks, forests and open spaces are some of the most beautiful places on earth. Plants have their own survival tricks and sometimes by “helping them out” we gardeners can cause more harm than good. Watering a plant with ice cold water from the tap often creates a sheet of ice over the leaves and tops of the crown, resulting in more die back than if the plant was left to its own resources. Watering a plant with hot water to “help it defrost” isn’t really much help either. When the air temperature is above freezing, but the ground itself is frozen, watering seems like such an unnecessary thing to do. Would you like water thrown on top of you while you were sleeping? Seems like a rude awakening to me.
Winters can be harsh and plants will sometimes die but that is part of the natural cycle of a garden. You can hedge your bets if you like and water during the winter. Maybe it will pay off or maybe you’ll just be adding more work for yourself. I play in the snow instead of dragging around a hose. What do you do in your gardens if you live in cold places in the winters?
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