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Cold-weather watering

Q: Do I need to worry about watering during the winter? Do antidesiccants help?

Christina Thomas, Clarks Summit, PA

A: Jeff Jabco, director of grounds at  Scott Arboretum  of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, replies: The only time I water during the winter is when I’ve transplanted something late in the season and it hasn’t had enough time to put out a good root system. I always water then so the plant has no chance of the roots drying out. Otherwise, the ground itself has enough moisture in it to take care of the plant. Rarely do we have a week in the winter without some form of precipitation. Even though the ground is frozen, the cold winter temperatures keep most of the moisture from evaporating. A thick layer of mulch before winter also protects plant roots. 

If you need to overwinter nursery-grown container plants, water them well before you put them in their storage place—a cool, but protected area—and they should last the winter without any extra attention.

I rarely use antidesiccants. They don’t last for the whole winter, so they’d have to be reapplied at least once during the season. But in order to apply an antidesiccant, the temperatures must be above freezing until the spray has had time to dry but not freeze, which obviously can be difficult during the winter. The only time I use an antidesiccant is when I’ve transplanted a broadleaf evergreen late in the season and it hasn’t had a chance to get established.

From Fine Gardening 53, pp. 18