It gets the hose again

Garden pros offer winter watering tips

It may be cold out, sure, but landscaper David Schemenauer hasn’t gone dormant.

It may be cold out, sure, but landscaper David Schemenauer hasn’t gone dormant.


Winter gardening seems easy enough, seeing as it doesn’t really exist—right? Just deactivate your sprinklers, haul in citrus or otherwise fragile plants, trim your perennials and hunker on down.

Well, not quite. Most local homeowners skip a big step, says longtime landscaper David Schemenauer, and it’s an omission that can bring lasting problems, come spring.

They don’t water their evergreens.

“It’s a huge, huge thing that people don’t do,” says Schemenauer, owner and operator of Naycha Boy—think “Nature Boy”—Landscaping in Reno. “Very few do it, and it’s so important.”

An evergreen’s growth slows in winter, but its system doesn’t power off the way a deciduous tree’s does. So to prevent it from dehydrating and possibly turning brown, give it a good drink from time to time—figure every three weeks, Schemenauer suggests, barring significant rain or snowfall.

“Evergreens still transpire in the wintertime,” he says of the various plants that bring swaths of green to an often monochromatic winter landscape. “They’re still going through photosynthesis, and they’re still up-taking water.”

Bulbs and winter vegetables such as cabbage can stand to be watered too, says Walt Kaiser, master gardener with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

“All of us should be out there watering [as needed],” he says. “All you have to do is test the soil, and if it’s damp, leave it alone. Especially with trees, there’s a lot of surface-feeder roots. They’re closer to the top, and you don’t want them to dry out.”

A screwdriver or an old kitchen utensil is all you need to check moisture levels. If you can push through the dirt easily, you’re probably fine.

Brief bouts of precipitation aren’t much help, for the record.

“What I see happen a lot is that we may have a storm pass through here, and it’ll rain or snow for 10 or 15 minutes, and people will go, ’Oh, we’ve got water!’”— Schemenauer throws up hands up in mock excitement—“But it’s so minimal, when you look at how much actually fell.”

If it’s more than a half-inch or so, your property is well watered. If it’s not, bring out a garden hose and work by hand. Remember, too, that unless a tree was only recently planted, you’ll want to extend your watering area well past its trunk area and out to the drip line—the perimeter of the branches’ reach. That’s a year-round tip, by the way.

Another wintry one involves removal of leaves, pine needles and such that accumulate on grass. This goes beyond tidiness.

“Leaf and needle removal needs to happen, especially in turf areas,” Schemenauer says. Planted beds don’t mind the debris so much, “but when people let those leaves stay on the turf, they deprive the grass of water and oxygen, and will damage the turf.”

Fallen leaves aren’t always so bad, though—not when you look good naked, that is. If evergreens aren’t your style and you’d still enjoy winter color, try planting something that’s ornamental on its own. Schemenauer likes red-twig dogwoods.

“After they drop their leaves,” he says, “they’ve got a beautiful red bark.”