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Watering plants in winter

  • Watering plants in winter
  • Watering plants in winter
  • Watering plants in winter

I've just had an email from someone asking me if they should still water their plants, the one in pots, in winter.

This is not as daft a question as it sounds: sometimes winter can have surprising dry spells, if there hasn't been any rain or snow for a few weeks - winter winds can be as drying as the hot summer ones, and evergreen plants do continue to grow all year round.

It's fair to say, though, that mostly, the emphasis for winter maintenance of plants in pots is the two-fold advice to get them up on their legs for a bit of drainage to prevent waterlogging of the pot, and to wrap them up if they are a bit tender, to protect them from frost.

I wrote about the first point, the being up on legs, a while ago - we do it for two reasons: firstly to protect the roots of the plant (many of them really don't enjoy sitting in cold, soaking wet compost all winter, and who can blame them?) but also to protect the pot against cracking: as we all know, water expands as it turns to ice, so a waterlogged terracotta pot might, during a freezing spell, crack under the strain of the water inside it trying to expand.

And the second point, wrapping the plants and/or the pots, has already been covered in detail in my article about winter wrapping - in brief, you can wrap pots in bubble-wrap to help prevent them cracking, and to protect the roots from getting too cold: and you can wrap the top of the plant in horticultural fleece, to keep the frost off.

But now and again, pots do actually suffer from being too dry, especially if they were allowed to get very dry during that long, hot summer that we had. Yes, do you remember it? Sun, day after day... it may seem hard to remember now, but we didn't have rain for weeks on end and all the plants were gasping.

So if they didn't get a chance to re-soak during the autumn, it is entirely possible that some of your pots might be a bit on the dry side.

Or, if you have decorative pots very close to the house, they might be in the "rain shadow" of the eaves, in which case they might be surprisingly dry.

How to tell? The usual test is to lift the pot and see how heavy it feels. But if it's a huge great pot, you might not be able to lift it. Instead, take a small trowel or a hand-fork, and gently see if you can make a slit in the soil, an inch or three down, and turn over the surface layer to see how wet - or dry - the soil looks. If it's pale grey and dusty, it needs water! If it's dark and sticks together, it's fine.

And of course you can be informed by the plant - if it starts to look wilted and sad, it's worth checking the soil to see if it's suffering from drought. Generally speaking, you would only need to check once or twice a month, as plants don't use or lose as much water in winter as they do in spring.

it's also worth removing any dead leaves or stems, and clearing away any weeds or debris that are sitting on the surface of the soil. They don't help the plant, and can provide winter accommodation for bugs and disease, which is bad news for plants in pots, as they generally live a life of moderate stress anyway, compared to the plants in the beds and borders.

So there you are, it's often worth asking these questions, even if they do seem a bit daft!

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