While plants use much less water in the winter than in the summer, we are still in the desert and conditions are mostly dry. Some amount of watering in the winter is necessary and will depend on the amount and type of rainfall.
Generally speaking winter is the rainy season in the high desert. There have been years when I thought we would all float away because of the constant rain. And this was only a few years ago – 2018 and 2019 especially. Unfortunately the last few winters have seen periods of rain but also long dry periods.
Whether or not you garden needs water is not only a matter of whether or not it has rained recently but the type of rain. Long periods of light to moderate rain are perfect for the garden. However, more often than not the rain – or snow – comes in a torrent that is hard but brief. And it is not uncommon in the high desert for it to rain on one side of your house but not the other.
How to know if your garden needs water? Often you can tell just by looking. Or take your trowel and dig down a bit.
Your garden will get a bit of moisture from winter dew. Colder air is less able to hold water vapor than warm air. This forces water vapor in the air around cooling objects to condense. When condensation happens, small water droplets form—dew. If there is a string of cloudy days this can provide enough water to mitigate the need to water.
In the winter you obviously will not want to have any kind of regular watering schedule. Instead a general rule is if a dry period lasts longer than two to three weeks, you’ll need to water. Guidelines are:
1. Water during the day when temperatures are at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit to allow water to percolate through the soil. I usually do this late morning to early afternoon.
2. Finish watering before 3:00 p.m. so water can drain away from the surface before sunset.
Theoretically you should have closed up your irrigation system for the winter (I must admit I usually don’t). Regardless I like to hand water in the winter giving special attention to the base of individual plants instead of a more general soaking.