When I suggested to you in July or August that you should be giving your plants some supplemental water, you probably were not surprised as overly dry as it was. But now I am going to tell you in the dead of winter that you need to water your plants and that may surprise you.

Everything needs water. This is a very simple statement with a lot of importance, especially following the dry summer we had last year. I am sure you watered in the fall, ensuring good moisture and insulation for your plants’ roots. Depending on the amount of snow we get this winter season – and there hasn’t been much the past few years — you should plant to water this winter to put sufficient moisture in the soil to provide your plants with additional insulation. When wet soil freezes, it will stay between 31 and 32 degrees above zero, even if the air temperature gets much colder. This temperature range is safe for plant root. It takes tremendous cold to reduce the temperature of ice below 30 degrees. But, when dry soil freezes, the air temperature can enter the soil, dropping the temperature below 29 degrees/ At below 29 degrees, injury to the plant roots starts and death will son follow.

There are several groups of plants that may need supplemental water. They are grouped primarily by virtue of locations: plants under the overhang of your house – plants such as perennials — left in planters over the winter, and plants left in raised beds. In fact, there are some garden centers that will void guarantees on plants placed in these locations.

One other group of plants to consider watering is plants in well-drained soil. Better-drained soil is ideal for plant growth in the summer, but because excess water drains off quickly in the winter, extra water may mean better protection for the roots.

In addition to providing winter insulation, winter watering may encourage roots to grow. We know for certain that roots grow through the autumn until at least the end of December. Given the premise that if a living thing stops growing, it is dead, we might assume that root that roots probably also grow in the winter. It may be only a mill micron per week, but some growth undoubtedly occurs. This growth will not take place if the roots are too far below 31 degrees.

Article by Fred Hower, “The Ohio Nurseryman.”
© The Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association. If you wish to reproduce articles in quantities of 10 or more, use an article in a class or training session, or reprint an article in a publication (print or web), you must obtain explicit permission from the ONLA.

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