There's so much more to a great yard than just mowing the lawn.

Which Plants Should You Winter Water?

We got lucky over the past week, with a bit of wet spring snow adding moisture to our landscapes. For most of us, however, the snow didn’t moisten the soil very deeply. It’s time to water your landscape plants to ensure they get a good start to the growing season.

Snow melting on lawn

Wet spring snow adds much needed moisture to the soil.

I know I’ve often felt really silly, standing in my front yard with a sprinkler and hose, watering brown grass and dormant trees. My neighbors look at me like I’m crazy. They wonder what I could possibly be doing. But when my lawn greens up beautifully in the spring, I realize it’s worth suffering through the curious stares.

One thing that helps me feel confident is the certainty that what I’m doing is truly helping my landscape. Believe me, it’s very helpful for plants that come from wetter climates to have that extra moisture. But which plants come from wetter climates? Here’s my advice on which plants to water and which to leave alone for now.

Lawn and trees

The top priority should be watering your lawn and trees. These benefit greatly from spring watering and suffer if you don’t do it. Most of us have Kentucky bluegrass lawns, which are most definitely not native to Colorado. But even if you don’t have Kentucky bluegrass, winter watering is helpful for most “lawn” grasses, like tall fescue and perennial ryegrass, too. It’s even more important to water any lawn areas that are very sunny, sloped, or exposed to high winds. These areas dry out quickly, causing grass to die.

Virtually all trees, except for perhaps pinyon pine and upright juniper, need more moisture than what falls naturally on Colorado’s Front Range. So take the extra effort to water your  trees. They are likely the most valuable plants in your landscape, and the most costly to remove and replace.

Recent Transplants

The next priority should be anything you’ve planted in the past two growing seasons. This includes any shrubs, perennial flowers, groundcovers, and ornamental grasses that are recent transplants. Of course, water any recently transplanted lawn grass or trees, too. Newer plants don’t have a fully grown root system, so they’re more likely to dry out and die if you don’t help them out. Once they’ve made it through two winters, they are much more resilient to neglect.

Established Traditional Landscape Plants

Once you tackled your lawn, trees, and newly planted plants, then get to the established shrubs, perennial flowers, groundcovers and ornamental grasses that are “traditional” garden plants. I consider “established” plants to be anything I’ve planted three or more summers ago.

Most landscape plants that have traditionally been used in Colorado landscaping actually come from wetter climates. If you didn’t choose it for its ability to tolerate drought, water it. Especially if you notice plants that have already started to green up at the base, give them an extra drink soon.

Don’t Water the Natives or “Drylanders”

There are some plants that don’t benefit from winter watering. These include “alternative” lawn grasses, like buffalograss and blue grama. You would definitely know if you had one of these alternative lawn grasses because they are so different from a traditional lawn.

It’s also not necessary to water shrubs, grasses, and flowers that are native to the Front Range or desert southwest US, or other dry climates of the world. Most cacti and succulents also don’t need any early spring moisture. Don’t bother watering your native grass, three-leaf sumac, or yucca. It’s wasted time and money.

If the weather holds over the weekend, get out the hose and sprinkler. It’s a great chance to help your landscape transition into spring.


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