Oklahoma Water Resources Center

Landscape needs moisture in the winter, too

STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma gardening enthusiasts may not be thinking much about watering their landscapes in the middle of the winter. Unfortunately, lack of adequate soil moisture is often a major cause of winter damage.
Landscape needs moisture in the winter, too.

David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist, said dry soil, coupled with strong winter winds, can wreak havoc on a plant.

“Even though the sun isn’t beating down and drying out the soil, all plants, especially narrowleaf and broadleaf evergreens, use water during the winter,” Hillock said. “Oklahoma has been in drought conditions for some time now, so it’s very important for gardeners to continue watering throughout the winter months.”

When there is little or no soil moisture present, plants can become desiccated. In addition, it is more likely root damage also will occur. When dry cold fronts are predicted, the landscape should be watered 24 hours in advance of the front. Hillock said to apply about a half-inch of water.

“A sunny day on moist soil helps warm the soil and root area, which in turn reduces the amount of time the roots will be exposed to cold, winter temperatures,” he said. “Keep in mind moisture must be available below the frost line or frozen soil. When the soil freezes, if moisture isn’t present in soil pore spaces, moisture is pulled from plant roots to form the ice crystals. This results in desiccated roots, or what some would refer to as winter kill.”

Obviously gardeners need to use common sense when it comes to winter gardening. Do not allow automatic sprinklers to come on during a hard freeze. Ice forming on some plants could result in some serious damage. Also, the ice that will accumulate on sidewalks and even the road in front of your home could create a hazardous situation for you, pedestrians or even passing vehicles. In addition, be sure to disconnect hoses from outside spigots before a big freeze.

Hillock noted too much water can cause problems in the winter as well. Cold, wet soils can lead to rotting roots. In addition, very wet soils can encourage winter weeds to germinate and flourish. It is best to water only every two to three weeks and apply just enough water to moisten the top 6 inches of soil.

“If you have potted plants under a porch or patio covering or the eaves of your home, remember these plants will need watering since they often receive little natural precipitation,” he said.


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
136 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Document Actions