Winter Watering Mother Nature Style

Moisture from freshly fallen snow is far better than anything that comes out of a hose.

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.

The natural winter landscape of this open space is not covered with snow nor watered by hand, yet comes to life each spring without fail.

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.  

These Ponderosa Pines are growing just fine with only the moisture that Mother Nature gives to them.

The ground cover geraniums in my gardens receive no winter watering yet come back beautifully each year.

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? 

© 2011 – 2012, Kathy Green. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Join the Wren Song Community

Wren Winter Singing crop

Free Exclusive Content and Member's Forum

Sign up for a free membership in the Wren Song Community and you'll have access to a lot more valuable information published exclusively for our members.

Meet other passionate wildlife gardeners from around the country. Share your successes. Learn from your failures. Discover the best resources to help you create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your gardens with native plants so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, and other wildlife to your garden.

Learn more about the Wren Song Community


  1. Vicky says

    I don’t winter water either. Though it may be a good idea if you had just planted an evergreen tree or shrub in the fall. Winter winds supposedly dry out the plant and without an established root system, the newly planted shrub could be damaged. Or so I’ve heard.

    And it may also depend on where you live. If you live in an area where plants don’t go dormant, then I would think they would need water just like in the other seasons. Or you would just need plants that don’t need supplemental water.

  2. Barbara Chambers says

    I would love to let nature water for me, but she is not so kind to gardners in Odessa, Texas. We have only had 5″ of mosture in 15 months. We have had 2 good snowstorms (included in mosture count).I grow native and adaptive plants that dont need much water, so the garden is doing well.

  3. says

    One of the great things about zone 4 is that Mother Nature puts the garden down for that long nap. As far as I’m concerned she is the perfect garden sitter. Sometimes I wonder about her methods, but I know in the end she will do the job. I spend my time wrestling with the plants that are too tender to stay out there.

  4. says

    Kathy I have never considered watering in winter. No one does here…we usually get cold and snow except this year so far…we will get snow though…if it doesn’t snow here it rains so the plants are more than well watered…i have rain gardens to deal with the thaw and rains as the water sits on top of the clay..I guess I never considered watering since Mother Nature never waters with a hose but from the sky…natives require we plant them and let Mother Nature take over….great post!!
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Third Day of Christmas

  5. says

    The key to low garden maintenance, in my opinion, is having the correct conditions for the plant, this way mother nature provides all that is needed. The only time I feel a need to supplement water to my plants, is if they are in pots, and the winter is exceptionally dry.

  6. Susan says

    I don’t water in winter either. Here in Michigan the winter temperatures can be all over the map. I gave up on that advice that said to mulch when the ground was frozen. That can vary so much. I let the leaves stay on my beds that get them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge